Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Camouflage and Defense

Camouflage and Defense

Edgar is small. He is five foot one and scrawny. Skin and bones. Held in normal fashion, his lunch tray is often at the same level of the ass of the inmate in front of him. It has not been a good life.

Edgar was small time. He never grew. Pre-pubescent Edgar was the same height as all the other boys. Then all the other boys lifted off, and left Edgar behind. It transformed him from a relatively well-liked boy into a highly coveted victim. It made him angry, mean, petty. He enjoyed what retribution he could find. He made sure that Pam saw Steven kiss Mary. He slashed tires. Made teachers aware of cheats, passed notes, chewed gum. He tried to remain inconspicuous, to remain as invisible as they seemed to want him, but it never worked. It just resulted in more torment, but he took what he could get. As he grew older, the tormenting continued, he became more sophisticated in his schemes. When the rest of his class went off to college or the army, he remained behind and started small time cons. He went to the library, learned about famous cons, would modify them to maximum effect, and would swindle suckers in the neighborhood.

Things progressed, he left his neighborhood, wound up in the big city and started running slightly more complex cons. He worked under dozens of aliases and told people in the know to call him "The Oak", and people did to his face and referred to him as "The Runt" to his back. He moved too quickly and got in too deep, mixed with the wrong crowd. And soon enough he was being conned by a fellow grifter. He spent a little time on the run. His wanted poster read "Edgar 'The Runt' Sherman".

He was in the process of hustling a watch from an old man when he was tackled and arrested. They had to lower the camera to take his mug shot. His eye was black and blue, his brow was red and bloody. They enjoyed arresting him. It was his first time in prison and he was frightened. He did not like other people, he had heard stories of prison, that it was fraternal, it kept its own order. Just like school. He was to be here for eight years. He hoped to be killed.

Edgar had worked with another con man once, a few years ago, who told him that the only way a man like Edgar could survive in prison was, on the first day, convince the entire prison that he was crazy, or kill someone with his bare hands. The latter seemed impossible. Maybe he could make a knife from something. Maybe something heavy in a sock. He was turning in his clothes now, getting an orange jumpsuit. He could possibly kill the lady handing out the jumpsuits. But she had a stick. But, there was a pen on the counter. Maybe her neck. But he was a coward. And she was pretty.

The new detainees were led into the common area. The other prisoners were at the doors to the cells. They were yelling, throwing things. Edgar made a choice, and he ran with it.

Edgar screamed "No", broke from the line, put his head down and ran as fast as he could at the locked door behind them. He hit his head with as much force as he could muster and woke up in the infirmary. He was released three days later and was guided back through the same common room under sedation. He was too woozy for leg shackles. The nurse had given him enough sedatives to last him through the night. It was in this way surprising when he again broke from the line, turned around with his head down, and ran into the door. Everyone laughed, people talked about it for days.

When he was returned, he was strapped to a wheelchair, his head was bandaged and people cheered. He was put in bed under heavy sedation and when he woke up a few days later, he wrapped a towel around his head and spent five hours staring into the corner of the room. It was painfully boring, but convincing. It took a few more weeks of calculated strangeness to convince his felow captives that he was indeed crazy. There were a few instances where some of the inmates roughed him up. But it wasn't too bad. When it happened, he would curl up and start talking to his mother or to an unknown person named Stevie. Stevie, he explained was his pet pigeons father, and was coming to kill us all. Stevie's son Buford lived in the courtyard and had a gnarled right foot.

Edgar had his own lunch table. After a week of singing sea shanties "It's the only thing that will keep Stevie in space!" His cell mate was moved to another cell, and Edgar would refuse to leave for weeks at a time, he had his own space, he could hide behind the bars and forget his act. By law, he is required to have excercize time in the yard, but the guards were all too happy to leave him behind. Edgar was never particularly fond of showering, and showering with other men was unapealing, his excercize time just made him smell worse. The guards figured he was faking, the councilor said she knew he was faking, but either way, best to leave him be.

Edgars walls would crumble in year four. He was up for parole in year five. He electrocuted himself on purpose and then told everyone that it had warped his mind back to shape, that he was cured. Edgar had been used to getting his own way, and used to the influence he seemed to weild over everyone, he could bend his reality as he chose and it would work as it had. They were dumb, he thought. They believed that he believed in Stevie, which is absurd as his believing in Stevie. And now, suddenly, his hair was combed, he was trying to cover how nervous he was with casual conversation. He molted. Tried to become normal in time for the hearing. Convicts, it turns out, do not like being tricked.

The day of the hearing he'd arrived bruised and bloody. They'd spent the last few months tormenting him for tormenting them. They insisted that he wear that sheet of his around his head, denied him showers and someone killed Buford and then they took turns throwing Buford at him.

The parole hearing did not go well. They did not like that he conned his way into a single occupancy cell. They blamed his bruises on his 'game'. Maybe next year they said. Three more years. But, there was a pen on the table.

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