It takes a special kind to work down here in Florence. You can't be weak, you can't be afraid. They tell you a lot of these things at orientation. At all of the orientations. You gotta be tough. A lot of it is easy. These Al-Qaeda folk we got in here, they ain't talk much. At least not the kinda shit I care to hear, or even understand for the most part. Easy to put on the tough face when we ain't speaking the same yarble.
But these other guys, the home-growns – they're another breed.
The walls are grey. Specifically, they're battleship grey. Trooping from top to bottom in this constant grey has been my life now for the past 35 months, 23 days, 7 hours, and 15 minutes. You don't just apply to be here, either. You get assigned. You get given this detail. It's not comfy, either, to be cramped up here. I feel like a fuckin' nanny, looking after nutcase after nutcase, makin' sure there ain't too much shit on the cell walls.
The walkway is stainless steel, the walls are all poured concrete. It's a bleak work environment. At least, that's what the last evaluation told me. The younger boys were expecting a little more color, I guess. They just got shipped in, onto some 'lighter' duty, far as they're concerned. Tho', I'giss 'fter fightin' the stanis, I guess this seems a lot blander.
Kaczynski's the worst of the lot. I drop off his midday meal every day and every day he traps me in a conversation I shouldn't be having. As I walk past his solitary cell, I hope today will be different. I try to keep my gaze level and my pace even as I dump his meal into his grub hole.
“Cunningham,” the inmate says to me through the food slat.I falter. The drag of the shift has got me again.
“What is it, inmate?” I ask him.“What's going on in the world, Cunningham?” the inmate asks me, taking his food in through the slot, “I'm eager to know.”
“Nothing special, inmate. Now eat quietly before I write u-”
He interrupts me. “You know what I miss most about the outside? Do you? It's hunting. Yeah, up in my cabin I got to do a lot of hunting. Ever have a good venison steak, Cunningham? Ever made yourself some real jerky?”
“Not really the huntin' type.”
“One of those new boys, he's a hunter. I think his name is Jacobs. I can see it in him. I see it in the way he prowls the hallway. I'd keep an eye on that boy if I were you, Cunningham. Could be bad for business.”
I beat my baton against the cell door. “You talk too fuckin' much, Kaczynski.”
I hear him chuckling to himself as I make my way down the corridor to deliver the next midday meal tray. The new kids think they're tired of this place. They don't know what that really means yet.
After the last meal is handed out, I check in at the guard station. Jacobs has the next patrol and he's finishing a coffee at the desk.
I punch out as he punches in, and with a nod, I take my things and head home.
Hours later, my two-way goes off, waking me up. Bleary-eyed and with ears full of cotton, I didn't hear it right the first time. I catch it the second time.
“Cunningham, Are you there?” it isn't Jacobs talking.
“Identify,” I fire back.
It's Kaczynski. This doesn't make sense.
“You know, Jacobs really was a hunter, Cunningham. Just not a very good one. He let his prey escape.”
“What is this?” I ask. There are other guards there, this is impossible.
“It's my second wind, Cunningham. And I will fly, this time.”
“That Jacobs boy, I tell you. He thought he was doing the world a favor, doing his dead mother justice by putting me down. Took me out behind the shed, so to speak."
I can't move.
"You said you weren't the hunting kind.” his voice teasing from the two-way. I should do something, call this in, somehow, but I'm frozen.
“Well, the hunt is on. And I don't want just any hunter like poor Jacobs here. I want you, Cunningham.”