Chapter 4 ~ Requiem for Dissent
Crossing his fingers hopefully, Curt stepped out of the sticky hot raining situation outside and into Rascal House Pizza, the best pizza place in town and the local hang out for college students. He let out a sigh of relief and a 'yes!' when he saw that it was Seth working behind the main register. It was eight thirty so the place had let most of their employees go home, lowering the work force to five, one more than they would need to stay open late into the night. Seth was usually scheduled until ten but he would no doubt leave early like he always did. Right now he was alone, wiping the front counter off with a wet cloth to make it look like he was busy. "Curt m'boy!" he shouted enthusiastically when he saw his roommate walk in. "Mingling between shifts, are we?"
"I guess so," Curt said, quickly approaching the counter so he could lower his voice and no one else would be able to tell what they were talking about. "Hey, where's your manager at?"
Seth raised an overgrown brown eyebrow. "Out for a smoke. Why d'you ask? D'you want me to go get her?"
Curt shook his head vehemently. "No, no, that's fine. Look, I don't have any money."
A knowing look shot across Seth's face and he smiled widely. "Two slices with everything on 'em and a large drink, coming right up," he chimed off exactly what he knew Curt would have said if he had had money. He started bustling about, grabbing a takeout box and a huge plastic cup, handing the latter to Curt while he scooped two of the biggest loaded slices of pizza from under the heat lamps into the box.
"You're a life saver," Curt told his friend while he walked to the soda fountain and shoved his cup under the dispenser. "I owe you one."
"Nah," Seth waved it off, "don't worry about it. After all, if I get fired for doing this, you're the one who's gonna have to pay the entire rent yourself."
Curt flinched, but only for a second. He had never thought of that before, that he was stealing from the establishment that paid half of his rent. "Oh well, I'm willing to take that chance," he said, taking the box of pizza from Seth's outstretched arms. "Thanks again," he said, and turned for the door.
"Wait, you forgot your change."
"Huh?" Curt spun around.
Another huge smile was on Seth's devilish face as he extended his arm out once again to Curt, this time with a ten, two singles, and some odd amount of coins. "You forgot your change," he repeated, one of his caramel brown eyes winking at Curt. "The place needs vacuuming by the way," he added as a side note.
It was more than a fair bribe. Curt took the money and stuffed it in his pocket. "Thanks man," he said for a third time, then turned his back and quickly walked out the door before Seth's manager could come back.
He ate his pizza in the rain as he walked to work, wishing he had a third arm or something to hold his drink as he did. It was a fifteen block walk to Blackwater Correctional Facility, but it was early enough in the year that the sun would stay up until he got there. At least, it would have if it was not currently being barricaded by an army of clouds. He felt unusually light during his brisk walk because he had left his backpack back at his apartment, when usually it was carrying his textbooks and taser. He did not feel the need to bring textbooks when the weekend was ahead of him, plus his phone had just run out of pre-paid minutes so the taser fit right in his pocket where that used to be.
As he made a right at East Thirtieth, he pulled the second slice of pizza out of the box and pitched the empty box into the trash can on the corner. The pizza was a little damp from being exposed to the rain and the humidity, but Curt didn't mind and neither did his ravenous stomach; he hadn't eaten since breakfast at seven in the morning.
Tonight would be very important for two different reasons. Firstly, it was his first night of working where he would not have James lingering by his side, for yesterday had been the old man's last day and he was off in retirement land as of now. Although he would mildly miss the wisecracks that spewed relentlessly from the old man's mouth, this was mostly good news. Now he would have the entire cell block to himself, well, and a bunch of psychopathic inmates. He wouldn't need to make it look like he was working all the time. In fact, he could even catch up on his sleeping in the office if all went well, and it usually did. Locked up psychos could only cause so much trouble when the bars were closed, it was he day shift people that had to deal with the insanity that came with meals, showering, recreation, and the like.
The second reason this night was important was that it was the day he had scheduled to spend his three hour watch in the monster cells. That detail had become even more critical after the talk he had had with Ryan about the value of the ring that lay in the last cell. He thought to himself about how he would go about retrieving the ring. At first, he had told himself that he would get it with the taser, but that plan had many flaws. He wasn't totally sure if a person who has been tased is safe to touch, or if their muscles might violently contract and pull all the fingers into a tight fist that Curt would not have been able to break. Also, and he would be the first to admit it, he didn't want to have to tase Siren. Even after a week, she had done nothing to suggest that she was any more than a human girl, and a sane one at that.
By the time he had got to Blackwater, he still had no plan at all, but he told himself that he still had until almost four in the morning to figure it out, since he had his day cut out for him. He had to work until one, go get food, take it downstairs, and spend his hours with the other two monsters.
He clocked in, strapped on his taser and walkie talkie, removed his chain and eyebrow piercing, and then walked down the cell block in search of Ben Warner. Some of the inmates jeered and shouted inappropriate things at Curt or tried to spit on him, but he ignored them as always. The spitting and shouting greatly intensified when others were on the clock, so Curt took that as a sign that the inmates hated him the least.
Ben was, as Curt has figured, in their office, which now bore Curt's name on the third plaque. He was sitting at the desk playing a videogame on his hand held Nintendo; one thing Curt loved about this job was that as long as there was not a riot, no one cared if you were working or not.
"I'm in," Curt told Ben, but the second shift's eyes never left the screen. Ben was a plump, would be surfer looking guy with long blonde hair that would have looked like a chick's from the back. Although he had never asked, Curt was sure that he was responsible for all the posters on the wall. "You can head out whenever it pleases you."
And it pleased him. With nothing but a quick "Later," Ben was out the door and gone, leaving Curt alone in what was now his office with all the usual things Curt had left there for those boring times: A portable CD player, a Rubix cube he could not solve, and three David Baldacci novels that lay sprawled out on the desk. It was funny how even though Curt shared this desk with two other people, they never seemed to mind that his crap lay all over it twenty-four hours a day.
Oh well, he thought.
The shift began flying by like it always did. Curt patrolled the hall once, turned the lights out, handed out medication at ten, yelled at some rowdy inmates to shut up, went back to his office, fell asleep, woke up at twelve to hand out medication again, read one of his books for a half hour, and suddenly it was one in the morning, time to head down to the cafeteria and eat.
"You always look tired when I see you," Kenny told Curt as they both walked into the cafeteria together, Curt dragging his feet as he did. Kenny was the night shift guard from the other cell block, equally as thin, with a buzz cut and a chiseled face. Curt guessed that they were about the same age.
Curt grabbed a plate and started loading it up without thought. Pizza, pasta, garlic bread, chicken nuggets, french fries, rice, barbeque ribs, mashed potatoes, meatloaf, chicken drumsticks and wings, chocolate cake, cherry pie; it was all good to Curt who was once again starving. "That's 'cause I am," he told Kenny. "You don't even know. I go home at five, I'm in bed by six, and I'm out of bed at six-thirty to go to school. I literally do not sleep!" He made a move to sit down at a table, but not before grabbing another piece of garlic bread for good measure. One thing he absolutely loved about this job was that every day was like Thanksgiving down at the cafeteria. Being poor, he took advantage of this detail as best he could and ate enough for about ten inmates.
"Well," Kenny pressed on, stabbing the salad he had made himself, "I used to have to work two jobs, before I got married, so what I used to do," he passed Curt a small white bottle with no label that looked like something one could purchase at a discount drug mart. "Caffeine. Two hundred milligrams each. A couple of these and you'll feel like you slept all night and you're ready to go."
Curt looked at the pill bottle cautiously, as if it might jump out and attack him if he did something wrong. "Um... I dunno man," he said with a mouth full of mashed potatos, "I'm not really a pill popper."
Kenny chuckled. "It's just caffeine, safe as drinking coffee."
"But I already drink a lot of coffee," he protested, but ultimately he decided to be polite, and he took the bottle and pocketed it. "S'pose it can't hurt to have it though. If it gets real bad I might give it a try, thanks." He was halfway through one of his four slices of pizza when something caught his attention. "Wait... you're married?!" Curt exclaimed, suddenly confused. "How old are you?"
"Nineteen," Kenny answered, taking a sip of water. "I've only been married for two years though, so it's not creepy or anything."
And there it was, right in Curt's head. A vision of his baby sister, just barely seventeen, walking down the aisle with Curt's dad, some shadowy silhouette waiting at the end with a minister. Crazy world, he though, even though he knew his sister wasn't actually considering marriage. After all, it was less than a year until she could be legally cut loose just like Curt was. He briefly wonder if his parents had the nerve to do that, but he didn't like thinking about it because he knew that they did.
"The misses," Kenny went on after a moment, "owns her own chain of restaurants around the Cleveland metropolitan area and makes quite a living. Hell, if it keeps prospering like it has been, I may get to leave this job too. Wouldn't that be great? Livin' at home on your wife's money?"
Curt wanted to say 'Yeah, till she kicks you out on your ass,' but his mouth was much too full and he wasn't sure if he was that much of a jerk. Instead he just nodded pleasantly and when he finally had swallowed, asked "How old is your wife?"
"Twenty-six," Kenny answered.
Curt thought about that as he filled his mouth up with more food that he was hardly tasting. Kenny seemed to be a bit of a redneck, he decided, and he just then started to pick up on the very faint country twang in his voice. Usually rednecks pissed Curt off, what with their blatant racism, their obsessive love of trucks and tractors and country music, and their lack of hygiene, but Kenny seemed okay. He was adequately dressed and did not smell bad, and never mentioned any of those things that struck a chord with Curt. In fact, he was kind of like a smarter version of Forrest Gump, and everybody loved Forrest Gump, right?
"You eat a lot," Kenny pointed out.
"You don't eat very much," Curt countered, gnawing the rest of the meat off the bone of his last drumstick. He had polished off that entire meal pretty quickly, even compared to his usual frantic pace. Meanwhile, Kenny poked timidly at his salad, which he had barely touched.
Kenny sighed. "The misses has suggested," he used his fingers to make air quotes to express that maybe she had done more than just suggest, "that I may be gaining weight from all those ribs and burgers and that I might look better if I lost five or ten pounds."
"Like hell!" Curt objected. "Lose ten pounds and it'll look like I'm sitting alone at this table."
For the rest of their break, Curt went into a long rant about how society was using the media to create false beauty standards to spike the sales of makeup, diet pills, and plastic surgery. He used the words 'system' and 'establishment' to describe the antagonist in his story and stated liberal ideas that could be found in a Howard Zinn or a John Perkins book. Kenny listened intently, seeming to take great interest, and Curt wondered if maybe he was accidentally brainwashing his friend. He knew that his ideas were seldom accepted and tried not to talk about them if he had the choice, but quite too often his antidisestablishmentarian side got the best of him.
"What're you, like, an anarchist or something?" Kenny asked after Curt was finished.
Curt laughed and shook his head. "Nah, there's no future in anarchy," he sighed to himself, as if it was a confession instead of any old fact. "I'm just another kid with some ideas."
The two said their goodbyes for the evening, since their paths rarely crossed when they were on the clock, and Curt returned to the buffet table for what appeared to be seconds. He piled as much as he could onto a single cafeteria tray in a mountain shaped heap and then marched back to his office so he could supposedly fill out some paperwork while he ate. When he got there, he set the tray down on the desk and began pushing it towards the corner so he could reach the trapdoor that led down into the basement.
With extreme caution, he managed to get himself down the spiral stairs without dropping the heavy tray, and as soon as his feet touched the ground he started divvying up the food onto three paper plates, putting about three times as much on the plate that was going to be Wrylie's dinner. As was always the case, Wrylie accepted his food with a polite 'thank you' and Elijah flipped out and tried to attack Curt through the glass.
When he closed the door behind him and entered the third cell, he found Siren delicately lay out on the cot that was in the middle of the room. She was on her stomach, her arm hanging over the side of the cot and just touching the floor beneath her. Not dissimilar to Curt, she was dressed for the unseasonably warm weather in a white tank top and black jean shorts that ended at the beginning of her thighs. Her right foot had a flip-flop on it but the left had fallen off in her sleep and lay on the floor next to her.
Freezing for a second, two very different thoughts hit Curt at once. The first was that, if Curt had not been trained to fear Siren and assume that her agenda was to kill him at the first possible opportunity, he really would have found her truly stunning and beautiful, at least as far as looks went. No, he changed his mind. She was stunning and beautiful, despite the fact that Curt had been trained to fear her. He was probably much less scared of her than he should have been, and honestly that worried him. He owed it to a lot of people, himself, Seth, Dan, Elijah, and Wrylie, not to get himself killed because a horrible monstrosity happened to be drop dead gorgeous.
The second thought was a little more helpful to the game plan, in some respects. He wondered, just for a second, if he would be able to slip into the cage, undetected, and get out with a ring in his hand. The fingers that bare Curt's three hundred thousand dollar prize was on the hand that hung just over the cot, suspended in the air, each finger separated just enough for Curt to slip it off with minimal disturbance to her hand.
Curt bit down on his bottom lip. The drawback to this plan was that if Siren were to wake up and catch Curt in the act of trying to steal the ring, and if Curt were already in the cell… well, he didn't want to know what would happen if he suddenly found himself stuck in a cage with someone who had slaughtered an entire city.
As if to help make the decision for him, the girl mumbled something and began to stir, turning on one side so that her face was now facing him. Her eyes did not open, but that was enough, he decided. His plan was way too risky.
Debating now whether or not to wake her, Curt glanced over the face of the sleeping "monster." Most of her black hair had fallen over her face where it contrasted heavily with the paleness of her fair skin. Her skin was unnaturally smooth, he noticed, like it could have been made of silk, and her hair was sleek and shiny, like that in one of those overblown shampoo commercials.
Curt thrashed his head back in forth, grabbing it with both hands. Why could he never keep focus like James had tried to get him to do? This was a monster, and all Curt had to do was leave food for the monster and get out so he could distribute the two o'clock medication. He ultimately decided that he would not wake her up, and he told himself that if someone had interrupted him when he was sleeping, he'd be pretty pissed off. Then again, his sleep time was more valuable than that of most people. He turned to leave.
"Oh, hello Curtis," came a voice. Curt jumped, startled, and turned around. Apparently he didn't have to wake her up at all, that had already been done.
"Hey," Curt nodded dully, his heart getting over the quick jump. "I uh… I came back from the cafeteria," he informed her, remembering why he was in the room. "I brought everybody food. I know it sucks 'cause it's from the cafeteria, but…" Wait a minute, he thought to himself. Was he rambling? His mouth automatically clamped shut. Curt Osterberg didn't ramble.
"It's cool," she said understandingly, "you get used to it, and then before you know it, it's all you know." She slowly got off the cot and sat on the floor in front of the small plate that was near the bars of the cell. "Where's the old pig?" she asked, and when Curt gave a look of incomprehension, she added, "James."
Curt shook his head. "Gone," he muttered. He leaned up against the wall near the door, something about long time standing wasn't his thing. "He retired yesterday, so looks like you're stuck with me."
She half-laughed as she took a bite out of a slice of pizza. "I think I can deal with that," she said after she had swallowed. "I kinda felt like I repulsed James anyway. Like, he wouldn't talk to me unless it was to tell me to shut up or drop names." Then she sighed. "I guess I can't blame him."
Although she wasn't looking directly at him, Curt thought he could sense a certain pain behind those violet eyes that he could not describe. He could already hear exactly what James would have said if he had known what Curt was thinking. 'That's nothing compared to the pain of thousands of slaughtered Egyptians!' the angry voice echoed in the back of Curt's head.
Awkward silence filled the room, and suddenly Curt felt like he should leave. "I've got to get back to work," he said quickly, "but hey, I'm coming back at four, I've got to make my rounds through the underground cages tonight. So I guess I'll see you later."
For some reason this news seemed to cheer Siren up. She smiled and giggled a little as she drank from the can of Pepsi Curt had brought. "Alright, later Curtis."
The door closed behind him and he returned to the spiral stairway with an empty cafeteria tray in his hand and a strange feeling in his head. Why did Siren call him by his full name? And even more strangely, why didn't he care? If Seth or Dan had called him Curtis, he'd knock their teeth out, and yet here he didn't even mind at all. It wasn't even the fact that there was a possibility that she could kill him if he corrected her, he just didn't want to correct her.