Prison Poker

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Wolf's nose twitched. His lips curled in disgust, and he opened his eyes. Then he closed them again and started breathing through his mouth. It had finally happened. Jenner had realized he could shit on the floor. Wolf wallowed in self-pity for a moment, looking forward to the coming weeks and months in the cell next to Jenner with a quiet dread that bordered on despair. They say you're supposed to be able to get used to any smell, but it didn't seem to work for Wolf. Damn, damn, damn. Tuesdays would still be okay, he thought. Tuesdays were library day. Fridays there was TV in the common room. Sundays he could get away from the cell by taking the church service. Wolf wasn't religious, but nothing could be worse than staying where Jenner had figured out shitting on the floor.

Wait. Stop. Wolf sat up in his bed. Yes, there were some things worse. That would be professing a religion he didn't feel, and as such it would be wrong. It would be insulting people who believed in God and making a mockery of their worship. Wolf might not be a believer in God, but he believed in the sanctity of acts and places of worship, and shit or no shit he wouldn't violate such a place with pretense. Damnit, jail made it hard to do the right thing. The right thing would be to get Jenner help. They were going to try to do that, but they'd been trying for years, and it wouldn't work. The next right thing would be to just walk away, but jail meant he couldn't do that without pretending to be things he wasn't. Not on Sundays, anyway.

"Hey, Wolf!" Jenner slurred at him from the next cell. "I know you can hear me, man." Jenner giggled. "I bet you know what I did, Wolf. I bet you can smell it." And he giggled again.

Wolf frowned and opened his eyes. Jenner was one stupid son of a bitch, he thought. Wolf hadn't been the only one who heard that, and by morning most of J wing would know that Jenner had been baiting him. That would make the shit stink Wolf's responsibility in the eyes of the other prisoners, unless he found a way to take Jenner down and fast.

This just wasn't getting any better. Wolf had been very diligent about keeping his act straight as an arrow. He hadn't said a word but Jenner had just picked a dozen fights for him, and suddenly there were only two options for surviving the next few weeks. He could stay in his cell next to Jenner's stink, all the time, where the other prisoners in J wing couldn't get to him. Or he could find a place and a moment to beat Jenner to a juicy pulp so that the other prisoners would leave him alone. And the latter option was looking pretty good to him right about then, but he wasn't going to go there because he still had hope and he wanted out someday.

"Wolf!" howled Jenner gleefully. "Do ya like shit, Wolf? I got shit for ya!"

Wolf didn't say a word. Beating Jenner up would be wrong. Jenner was a stupid loser who was more than half crazy and beating him up wouldn't change that a bit. But at this moment, Jenner's big stupid mouth had made it Wolf's responsibility in the eyes of the other convicts to beat him up. They wanted him beat up because of his shit and they expected Wolf to do it because he'd picked Wolf to offend specially. If Wolf failed in that responsibility they'd make his life a living hell. This was a total no-win situation.

"How come you ain't sayin' anything, Mister Scudder?" giggled Jenner. "Dontcha like shit?"

Wolf shook his head. 'Mister Scudder,' now. He reflected on his own thoughts coldly, trying to figure out what he was doing wrong that he couldn't find a way out of this. Step one, quit thinking about killing him or beating him up. Wolf wanted out of here and besides it would be wrong. Step two, 'only two options' and 'no-win situation' are crap ideas. There are always more options. Crap ideas like that are just excuses not to think of them.

Step three, quit thinking about the consequences in general and get concrete. How long did he have before they realized he wasn't going to beat the snot out of Jenner and came after him? Maybe a week. Where would they do it? The library or the common room. Wolf would stay the hell out of the yard, that was too dangerous. He could avoid the library, though it pained him. He could avoid the common room most of the time and try to arrange it so he was only there when the place had guards. How bad would it be? Hmm. Hard to say for sure. Probably a ten or fifteen percent chance of getting killed, with hospital-sized damage a virtual certainty. Okay, step four. More options. What could he do in a week? Think. He could shut up and hope Jenner ran his mouth off at somebody else. Then the other prisoner would beat Jenner up and everybody would forget about it. Everybody except the other prisoner, that is, who'd resent having to do the job that he thought of as Wolf's. The problem with that plan was that Jenner might not cooperate. No, had to keep thinking. He had to have something that didn't need Jenner's help.

What else? Can't be defeatist, don't think about beating him up. That would just be letting jail make him into something he didn't want to be. He had access to the library. He had access to phone calls. He still had family on the outside who could do him favors. What could they do here? Nothing he could think of. He tried again, came up blank again. Okay, back to the Library. He had access to mail. Pens and stationery in the library, and there was enough for dozens of stamps in his account. Who could he mail? He.... Suddenly Wolf's mind quit spinning as the light dawned. He had the answer.

Wolf could mail his lawyer. If Wolf had an appeal going, nobody would question his not beating the snot out of Jenner. Everybody understood keeping your nose clean when you had an appeal going. Well, the ones who'd resent him for having an appeal going when theirs had all run out and they couldn't get any more would still want to beat him up. But that would be a lot fewer people than would want to beat him up for just failing to beat the snot out of Jenner.

Could Wolf get a new appeal? Wolf's appeals had run out, but Flanagan had come around asking questions about Maria, and there was a chance that new evidence existed. He hadn't gotten word from Flanagan yet, but he might never. Flanagan had always struck him as a straight shooter, but nothing enforces a promise made to a convict by a cop, and Wolf and Flanagan both had to understand that.

It might be too soon, but he only had about a week. Better too soon than too late. How was he going to pay the lawyer? He didn't have any money outside his jail account, and that wouldn't even be enough to get a lawyer to sneeze on his case, much less do any actual work on it. Wolf imagined you had to pay lawyers to sneeze; it seemed like you had to pay them to breathe, so why should sneezing be any different? But maybe he could have his dad sell his car. Okay, that would work. But the car was a card he could only play once. Did he believe in this appeal? He just didn't know. He didn't want to sell the car if it would still be too early to get the appeal. But damnit, he only had about a week.

"Wolf-ie! Wolfie, why won't you talk to me?" Jenner was going into a singsong voice, which Wolf knew from painful experience that he could keep up for hours. Wolf could smell Jenner, over his shit. He was all pumped up and happy. Wolf could smell the other prisoners too, and they were angry. No way to tell who they were angry at, but Wolf figured it would be him and Jenner both.

Starting when he was eight or nine, Wolf had played poker and bridge with his dad and his aunt Thelma and uncle August. Poker was all a guessing game, where you figured out how confident somebody was and matched it against what it was possible for them to have in their hand. Wolf had gotten pretty good at that pretty quick, because no matter how good someone's poker face was, it wouldn't fool his nose. But bridge had escaped him, until he'd figured out its secret. if the cards had to be a particular way for you to win, you played as if they were that way. If you played it any other way, you'd lose. Figuring that out had made his poker game better too, and prison politics has a lot in common with poker. And that was the lesson he had to heed now. There was only one way things could be that Wolf could win. He had to play it now as though things were that way.

He didn't know if there'd be enough evidence for an appeal. But he had to play it as if there were, because he had to file the appeal now. Basically, he was betting on Flanagan to have uncovered something or to find something by the time the ball got to his court. If he had to take his pick between betting on Flanagan and betting on Jenner, he'd take Flanagan any day.

Wolf laid back on his bed and closed his eyes. If talking to him were as boring as Wolf could possibly make it, Jenner might solve the problem by taunting someone else. If not, Wolf would wait three days, then sell the car, talk to the lawyer, and try to file the appeal. He knew what he was going to do, time to quit worrying and do it.

Wolf grinned as one final thought occurred to him. He was doing this as a survival move, but if it worked, he'd get out and he wouldn't have to spend time around Jenner and Jenner's shit any more, either.

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