Red Gelatin Salad Night By Richard Sale

Richardsale

          Ben Falls, 36, had been administrator of the prison's Diagnostic and Receiving Center since last August. “It was the opinion of the prison administration and the Department of Corrections that a qualified person was needed for the position,” and Ben got the job. He was good at it.

          One early Monday morning, he was talking to his inmate clerk, Jute, who was doing time for embezzlement.

          Atop a gray metal desk, a boxy radio was blaring. A wiry, dark-haired man, balding and undersized, sat in Ben’s chair, his cheek bulging out as he ate. He chewed happily in time to the music.

          Ben Falls opened the door. His red face was moist with sweat.

          “Hey – Sparky,” Jute sang out happily, chewing. When he saw his boss, he stood up in haste, brushing off crumbs. “Could you turn that down, please?” Ben said coldly.

          Jute looked like a startled raccoon caught rummaging in the trash. “Thought you were Sparky.” He moved quickly to quell the concert.

          As the prison psychologist, Ben Falls was known as a man who would listen before he would judge. Custody officers saw the convicts as the most depraved, vice-hardened and desperate set of men ever to disgrace the face of the Earth, but to Ben the inmates were human beings pretty much like himself, and he took their side against custody.

          There were exceptions – there were murderers who would kill you if they chose to. He knew that there was a small hard core among the inmates who were sullen, ignorant and even fanatical, but the majority were simply ordinary people who had made bad mistakes. His goal was to help them regain their lives, and he deeply cared for their welfare. As a result he was widely popular with them. Therefore, his inmate clerk enjoyed a certain esteem and prestige. More importantly, the two men had liked each other from the first, and a strong, affectionate respect had grown between them, even though, according to prison rules, Jute was required to address his boss as “Mr. Falls.”

          Jute was busily clearing off Ben’s desk, brushing crumbs, then gathering up a half-eaten donut which he covered by a crumpled paper napkin. Ben stood waiting.

          “Did you bring some for me?” Ben asked.

          Jute froze like a startled mouse.

          “That’s my breakfast,” Jute said, defensive.

          “I don’t get breakfast?” Ben said, sitting down.

          Jute, 36, stared hard at Ben. “You know,” he said slowly, “you may have gotten up this morning, and you may have showered and shaved and gotten dressed and walked over here, but you want to know something?”

          “What’s that?”

           “You’re still dreaming.”

          Ben didn’t reply. With lackadaisical energy, he began sorting through the disorder on his desk top piled high with files, case folders, stick-um scraps, pens, time sheets. On the far corner there stood a half-finished bottle of apple juice from last Friday. Jute was still intently watching him.

          “So I don’t get breakfast?” Ben asked again. He usually didn’t bother with it.

          Jute gave a heavy sigh.

          “There’s a whole pile of fresh donuts the cooks made in the kitchen this morning. You want breakfast?”

          “I don’t eat breakfast.”

           “I’ve seen you eat breakfast.”

          “When?”

          “I’ve seen you eat a breakfast,” Jute insisted. Ben said nothing. “Well, you may not eat breakfast, but if I don’t eat breakfast, my stomach thinks my throat has been cut,” Jute said. He came over and laid the pink phone slips on the desk top.

          “What’s this?” Ben said, effortlessly.

          “They called earlier. You got one in there from Warden Branscome.”

          “Branscome? Our esteemed deputy warden?” Ben said acidly.

          “He sounded sort of sour.”

           “Why, when did he call?”

           “Just after eight.”

          “I called him on Friday. Was he returning my call?”

          “I have no idea.”

          “He didn’t say?”

          “He just grumbled about something. You want me to get him or not?”

          Ben scowled. “I need some coffee first, I think.”

          “You don’t want breakfast? The donuts are super.”

          “I need caffeine.”

          “I’ll get coffee,” Jute said, going over to the alcove where the cups were kept. “You do remember you’ve got Haines coming in.”

          “Who the hell is Haines?” Ben found it hard to think.

          “The weight lifter?”

          “That describes most of the guys in here.”

          “The guy whose bland diet got canceled, remember?”

          Ben was trying to.

          “The guy with the bland diet. Or rather the guy who is supposed to have a bland diet. The guy who in fact had a bland diet until they canceled it.”

          “Who canceled it?” Ben was extremely puzzled.

          “I thought that was why you were calling Branscome.”

          “Wait. They canceled it?”

          “Apparently.”

          “Why in God’s name did they cancel it?”

          “Why does anything happen in here? Who the fuck knows?”

          Ben thought. “Yeah, I remember. That was why I called Branscome on Friday – to ask him about the bland diet. Of course, he had all day to reply, and then he calls when he knows I’m not here. Typical.”

          “Oh, yeah, I forgot. The warden called about fifteen minutes ago.”

          “The warden called? About what?” This was disconcerting. It was much too early to deal with the warden.

          “It was Della up front. You are supposed to call him.”

          “I think I’m allowed to have some coffee first,” Ben said, but, in fact, the idea of calling the warden made him nervous. The warden was as touchy as dynamite walking on two legs.
          “So, anyway, he’s in here at nine-thirty.”

          “Who is here?” Ben was mildly annoyed.

          “Haines for God’s sake. Don’t you ever listen to me?” 

          “Thank you very much.” Ben took a big sip of hot coffee from the cup.

          “You’re welcome very much.”

          “You’re right, though. Sometimes I think our love is headed straight for the rocks,” said Ben, downcast.

          Jute just gave him a look.

          “What?” Ben said.

          “Well, you’re still getting married in three weeks, aren’t you?”

          “Yes. So?”

          Pause.

          Jute sighed. “Look, you guys just like to annoy each other. You’re like kids.”

          “Is that right?” Ben said, affronted.

          “You are. That’s why marriage is perfect for you guys. Being married will give you a lot more time to irritate each other and you’ll certainly have lots more opportunities,” Jute said.

          Ben stooped to give him a look. “You’re a yell of laughter, you know that?”

          Jute shrugged. “Nobody’s perfect.”

          “Well, don’t tell Merit that,” said Ben.

          As they chatted, casually, Ben Falls had no inkling that in a few moments, he would fear for his life.

**********

          They were talking about the Sunday evening meal that always included a red gelatin salad, which Jute detested. Now he was talking to Ben about how the padre was taking some inmates out on Saturday to play handball, and Ben was saying, “So Tim Malphree came out?”

          “Oh, yeah.”

          “I didn’t know he played handball.” Ben knew that Timothy Malphree was a murderer. He was a young man in his twenties who was richly endowed with inferior qualities. Self-love drove his actions. He was fond of thinking himself superior to the people he compared himself with, and his face usually had an expression so antipathetic and insolent you wanted to hit him. He was also a vicious sexual predator.

          “He doesn’t – he just thinks he does. Alas, he’s not too bright. He made the mistake of challenging the padre to a series.”

          “Not a good idea,” Ben said. He had seen Father Murphy play.

          “Definitely a bad call,” Jute said. “In about ten minutes, Malphree was bent over red-faced, hands on his knees, hardly able to move. You would have thought he’d blown up 500 balloons – and not those bright, pretty little things you see at birthday parties, but those big sightseeing ones that carry people out over the desert.”

          Ben had a thought. “You remember that time, when someone got the ball past the padre? He turned and said to us, ‘Well prayed.’”

          Jute looked up, “What are you talking about?”

          “That’s really what he said, Well prayed. Christ, we almost died laughing.” Ben said.

          “The padre is quick on his feet.”

           “Well prayed. I like that one,” Ben said, smiling through his downcast mood. “He can really play, can’t he?”

          “Malphree?” Jute wasn’t following.

          “Not Malphree, idiot, Father Murphy.”

           “Oh.”

          “Father Murphy is really good, isn’t he?

          “Oh, God, yes. He’s first rate.”

          A pause. Ben was carefully sipping his coffee.

          “I really admire the padre,” said Ben. “I was thinking the other day of how he treats the inmates with dignity and kindness. It’s just what the men need. It’s just the opposite of custody.”

          “Custody thinks we’re animals in a zoo.”

          Ben shrugged. “Well, custody isn’t much of a job, and you don’t get much of a man who wants to do it,” he said.

          “Is that it? I always thought that at birth they’d been hit in the head by something heavy,” Jute said. He sat his desk but suddenly turned. “Did I tell you about my little run in with him?”

          “What run in? With Malphree?” Ben looked up. “When was this?” Ben was suddenly alert.

          Malphree liked to boast he’d cut the throats of ten people, but Ben had knew better. Malphree’s file said he had murdered two colleagues, both café waiters like himself, by ambushing them in a Phoenix parking lot, shooting at them with a rifle from a safe distance.

          “In here, why?”

          “Here? In this office?”

          “Last week, Yeah.”

          “Where was I?”

          “I don’t know. Out front somewhere.”

          “So what happened?”

          “Well, we all know Malphree thinks he’s some kind of giant mind,” Jute said. “He loves to set all these little intellectual ambushes for people to prove how smart he is.”

          “Is he really like that?” asked Ben.

          “He’s mean right down to the gums. So he comes in here and he gets a shifty, sly sort of look, and he asks me, do I know what the word ‘euphemism’ means. As if I’m sort of some unread idiot or something,” Jute said.

          “So what’d you say?” asked Ben.

          “I mean, why is it all stupid people think they’re cunning?”

          “So what happened?” Ben said.

          “So I told him the word was a synonym for periphrasis – a weasel word meant to disguise the meaning of something rather than revealing it –”

          “—yes…”

          “…and I said that if he looked in a dictionary for a synonym for ‘arrested intelligence’ – which in his case, should be the equivalent for ‘pretentious moron,’ he’d very likely find a reference to himself by name.”

           Ben’s face had suddenly reddened in laughter. “Did you really?”

          “Oh, yeah, I did.”

          Ben laughed harder still.

          “I really did,” Jute said. “I mean, Jesus. Malphree thinks he’s some sort of giant brain.”

          “Well, I don’t think pretentious moron would be one of his favorite self-

descriptions,” said Ben.

          “Hey, screw,” said Jute.

          “So what did he do? Did he say anything? He didn’t blow up at you? He must have said something, Jute.” (Ben was beginning to stare at his clerk. Ben knew that Timothy Malphree was as venomous and unpredictable as a cornered snake. What was most annoying about him was the enormous self-satisfaction he always seemed to exude.)

          Jute shrugged. “Well, of course, he wasn’t pleased; I mean, he let loose all this stuff. Anyway, who cares?”

          “Like what?” Malphree’s self control struck Ben as odd.

          “I told you: he let off a bunch of insults.”

          “Like what?” Ben was suddenly curious.

          Jute stopped to think, dish cloth in hand. “Well, Let me see. Well, okay. I was, I am, an ass-kisser. I, in fact, I never met an ass that I didn’t want to kiss…”

          Ben noticed his clerk was no longer meeting his eye. “What else, Jute?”

          Jute turned, slightly put-upon. “Do you really want to hear all this?”

          “I’m curious. It’s a vice.”

          Jute sighed and stopped scrubbing and stared off. “Well, let me see: among my other imperfections, I was a little flunky. Oh – and I was a snitch, too. I was ‘a sneaky, little rat snitch. Of course, that last one was designed to annihilate me in every fiber.” He again began scrubbing away at the counter with his coarse cloth. It had become stained when Ben had spilled coffee.

          “He didn’t blow up at you?” Malphree was a volatile, extremely discourteous creature.

          Jute shrugged. “Look, he’s an ass. He launched his little broadside of poison darts at me and quit.” He raised and lowered his brows.

          “And that was pretty much it?”

          “That was pretty much it. He just sprayed his insults around like a skunk.”

          The room was silent.

          Ben said suddenly “Maybe we should talk to him,”.

          Jute’s head came up. He swallowed nervously. “Talk to who? What are you talking about?”

          “Whom. Malphree.”

          Jute looked entirely startled. “Talk about what?”

          “You tell me.”

          “Why would you want to talk to him? I told you, he’s a worthless little skunk.”

          Jute seemed very rattled.

          “You are sure that’s all he said?” Ben was now on edge.

          “Well, I wasn’t taking notes. What did you think he would say? Why are you dwelling on this in the first place?” (Jute was now oddly querulous.)

          “Because it doesn’t make sense,” Ben said. “He is a violent man. Did he threaten to torch your cell? Or did he threaten to have you stabbed in the chow line? What else did he say, Jute?”

          Jute blew up at his boss. “Why are you asking about all this? Because of your quarrel this morning? How’s he going to have my cell torched from Condemned, for Christ’s sake? He’s not that stupid!” Ben’s clerk was defiant and angry.

          “You just said he was,” Ben retorted hotly. A moment passed. Ben suddenly got to his feet.

          “He said he’d cut me,” Jute blurted, going pale.

          Ben slowly sat down, his face fiercely furrowed, its expression slowly darkening.

          “Look, he’s all wind,” Jute pleaded.

          Ben didn’t answer; he simply sat and took thought. He stood up again and went over to a file cabinet, rummaged about, and finally fetched out a fat file folder. He came back with the file and sat down, his face tense.

          “Look, I have to be able to tell you things,” Jute entreated.

          After glancing over the file, Ben was silent, and Jute waited in suspense. Suddenly Ben said in a flat tone, “You better get out.”

          Jute knew what that tone meant. He quickly gathered some things and hastened out of the room.

           Ben assembled his energies After Malphree was convicted, Ben heard the rumor that, as a boy, he had a reputation of hanging cats and burying them. He clearly believed himself one of those people to whom everything is permitted. He was unpredictable too.

          Ben understood bullies. Part of their makeup is to display such an imposing appearance that it wilt their enemies desire to fight back. Bullies parade, pose, display their prowess in order to intimidate others into assenting to their predominance.

          Ben knew that many adults pale at the idea of fighting a bully. They dodge, they evade, displaying their lack of will. Ben was not like that. These thoughts flashed through his brain like lightning. He thought the matter over a minute more, then quickly got to his feet and stalked stiffly to the door of the open room outside. He could hardly bend at the knee. “Malphree!” he shouted.

          No sign of Malphree. Ben Falls stood out in the big, brightly-lit main room of the Diagnostic Center, with its crowded benches, its knots of talking, brown-clad officers drinking coffee, indulging in happy, vigorous gestures amid the slow-going to-and-fro of forms under lights that made shadows on the glossy green floor. Then Ben spotted Malphree over in a far corner talking idly to an inmate.

          “Malphree!” Ben said loudly. Malphree took no notice of him.

          “Malphree!” he shouted. The hush was like that produced by the sharp rapping of a symphony conductor’s baton before a performance. Hard, tanned faces turned towards him.

          “What do you want?” came a languid voice.

           “Get in here,” Ben said, angered and impatient.

          “I’m talking to Mickey,” Malphree said.

          “Goddamn you! Malphree!” Ben’s voice rising in anger.

          “Hey, I’m talking,” Malphree said, insolent.

          “MALPHREE, GODDAMN IT!” Everyone froze to stone. Ben was about to shout again, when, coming across the glossy floor there appeared a short, slight figure dressed in blue denims and dull, black shoes ambling along. Malphree had a weakly handsome face with small, gray, shifty eyes. Ben instantly saw that the inmate was ill-humored and haughty.

          In Ben’s office, the inmate sat down, acting put-upon. At Ben’s order, he grudgingly got up and closed the door. As Ben watched, Malphree again took a seat. “Why do you threaten people?”

          Malphree stared back at him, insolent and smug, with a sense that he was a person of enormous privilege.

          Ben’s voice hardened and grew curt. He didn’t have time for this. “I’m told you like to threaten people.” Ben gazed at him. “ Is that what you really are? A bully?”

          Malphree looked at Ben Falls a moment, his smile parted to reveal his carious lower teeth. “What’s that supposed to do?” he jeered at him. “Crush me like a cockroach? I mean, what did I do now? Offend some roadkill in the Yard?” It was all said in a sneering, grating, high-pitched voice. He fixed Ben with a stare. “Don’t you think I know how the game is played in here, huh? I mean in here a guy has got to show some heart. If people jam you, hey, you jam right back.”

          Self-satisfied, he ceased and sat back.

          Ben eyed him, thinking that the convict was an example where the language embodied what it indicated. His small down-turned mouth was set in a charmless pout.

          With the energy of annoyance, Ben began to aggressively rifle through the file he’d taken out.

          “Are you even listening to me?” asked Malphree, cocky.

          Ben found his place in the file and looked up. “Listen. I want you to listen, okay?” looking at him. “Listen to me. You didn’t jam back when you arrived.” He looked up from the file and stared fixedly at the inmate A deep flush was slowly creeping up Ben’s neck.

          “What the hell are you talking about?” Malphree said, nasty.

          Ben picked up a typed page.

          “You didn’t jam right back when you got here,” said Ben, studying the typed paper in his fingers.

          “You weren’t here when I got here,” Malphree said with a sneer.

          “It’s here in the file.”

          “In what file?” the inmate taunted.

          “I have an interview here. You complained of being anally raped. You asked to be removed from the general population for your safety.” Ben stared at him the way a hawk might stare at a mouse.

          “That’s bullshit,” the seated figure burst out. Ben saw that Malphree had stick-like, girlish arms, and a unhealthy face as pale as a fish’s belly. “Do you believe everything you read?” he jeered.

          “No, no, I don’t, but I believe what records say,” Ben said. “It's right here. Do you want me to read it aloud?”

          “Hey, listen, I don’t care if you do,” the convict burst out angrily. “It’s bullshit! It’s bullshit even if I said it. Maybe I hadn’t caught on yet that how rotten this place is, and how it worked. Maybe I was soft then. Maybe I was a rabbit then. But, I’m not soft now, and I know the goddamn score.” Suddenly, he was all belligerent swagger.

          “So tell me – what is the score?” Ben asked.

          Malphree sat cornered, glowering and insolent.

          “Tell me what the score is, Malphree. Hurry up, Tim, I have other people to see,” said Ben, his face becoming hard.

          “Hey, you’re supposed to be so smart, so you know as well as me, the only reason you don’t mess with someone in here is because you’ll be messed with back. So back then, maybe I hadn’t learned yet.”

          “Learned what?”

          “That either you had stand up for yourself or you’d end up being someone’s rabbit before you could blink. Like this guy in my tier. He’s doing time for some punk-ass white-collar rip off, and I took some law books out of his cell, and what does he do?”

          “Why don’t you tell me?”

          “I’ll tell you what he did. Nothing. Instead, he’s fucking friendly to me afterwards, can you believe that? He’s friendly. Just as nice. So I knew he was a rabbit. Shit, a righteous motherfucker would have broken my head open. He would have hit or stabbed me when I wasn’t looking. I mean he knows I stole his books, but he just says he doesn’t want any trouble. I mean, he’s a punk, a dumb, pussy ass. Because he’s gotta know that if I stole his books I’m coming after his ass next, right?”

          The sexual innuendo revolted Ben. “Are you pressuring this man, Tim?”

          The pasty, rodent-faced man displayed a convulsive movement in his throat. “Not yet,” he said blithely. His tone was smug.

          “Well, I wouldn’t start, if I were you.” Ben fixed the inmate with his eyes. 

          “Why? He’s a fucking rabbit so I’m breaking him in. I’ve already told him, him and me, we’re forming a partnership. If he’s a good little rabbit, then I won’t push too hard. If he bucks, I’m going to ride him.” Malphree grinned his evil, pickerel grin.

          “So you feel any pity or concern for this guy.” Ben said coldly. His neck had blushed.

          “Hey, I don’t feel bad at all. That’s how it is with rabbits. You ever wonder what they’re good for and why God made them?”

          “Why?”

          “Because they’re food! And what the fuck do you care anyway? You’re a chump, or you wouldn’t be here letting these assholes cry on your shoulder all the time,” Malphree sneered.

          “So I’m a chump?” Ben flushed slightly.

          “I don’t see anyone else sitting there,” Malphree said, looking off.

          “I may be a chump, but if I hear of you molesting anyone or forcing sexual relations on anyone, or threatening to cut anyone, I’ll personally make sure you get six months in The Hole. You got that, hot shot?” His words had come in harsh bites.

          “Yeah? And you’ll get it one day crossing the yard,” Malphree said, carelessly, looking off.

          The room was still as a corpse.

          Ben fixed him with a steady stare. “Ouch,” he said.

           “Do you really think you’re doing any good. Holding these guys hands, crying on your shoulder?”

          “What should do? Turn them into food?”

          “It’s better than nothing. I think you’re a pussy.”

          Ben’s face was stony. “So what would you like me to be, Tim?”

          “Grow a spine. Do something. As you are, you are a waste of time.”

          “So you’re a tough guy, and I’m not. Is that what you’re saying?”

          “I’m saying you are a waste of time. Nobody’s going to get better because of your little, trite pep talks.”

          Ben kept his temper. “You’ve killed two guys, Tim. Except you shot them from ambush. You shot them from a safe distance. See, Tim, a tough guy doesn’t do that.”

          “Well, at least I did something.”

          Ben thought. “I knew a tough guy Tim.”

          “Good for you.”

          “He was a hand-to-hand instructor for the 82nd Airborne. He was a tunnel rat. His job in Vietnam was to get a knife or a pistol and enter a Viet Cong tunnel and plant charges or kill anyone he found there. That’s taking a risk, Tim.”

          “Is this a long story??” Tim jeered.

          “One day George’s superior ordered him to free a VC prisoner sitting on the ground tied up, hands behind him. George – his name was Sgt. George Boomer – thought this prisoner dangerous, but his lieutenant insisted, and the minute the VC was free, he sprang up and reverse punched George in the chest, then side-kicked him, and punched him again. George fell down. The VC put his left foot across George’s body and was going to knee drop his weight on George’s face which would have killed him instantly. Except the VC left his hand hanging down and George reached up and yanked out his throat. You can image what that sounded like.”

          “He took out his throat?” Tim asked, swallowing.

          “I trained with him for a year.”

          “Real tough guy.” But Tim’s jeering was uncertain.

          “He was a tough guy, Tim. He could have killed me anytime he wanted to. See people are often different from what they seem. Maybe I’m not as weak as I seem. You see, you don’t like risk. Tim. When you shot your fellow waiters, there was no risk. You implied you can stab me, but you can’t stab someone from a distance. Okay? If you want to repeat your  threat, I’ll go and get Sgt. Hardoon. Why don’t we do that?” Ben got to his feet.

          “What’s the matter with you?” Malphree called, alarmed. “I thought we were having an interview.” His face was suddenly white as a calf’s face.

          Lt. Hardoon came in at Ben’s heels. In his thirties, he was a short and thick-set man with huge shoulders under a short neck. He had the face of a brute. He was known for his head-long ferocity.

          “You got a problem, Ben?” Lt. Hardoon had mean little eyes and right now they were fixed on Malphree.

          Ben said, “I’ve got a gentleman named Timothy Malphree who wants to make a statement. Go ahead, Tim. Go ahead. Tell him what you said.”

          “Fuck you,” Malphree.

          For an instant, Sgt. Hardoon froze, but then he exploded. He bent down to bellow into the white, scared inmate’s face. “How far up your ass is your head, convict? You curse at staff? You curse at Mr. Falls?” He bent over Malphree who shrank back in his chair. “No profanity is allowed in the Center, asshole! YOU GOT THAT ASSHOLE?”

          Sgt. Hardoon had grabbed Malphree's jacket. He shrunk back in his seat. Sgt. Hardoon roughed Tim up, pulling him almost to his feet, then slamming him back down. Ben acted: “Quit!  QUIT!” His voice cut like ice. Hardoon quit, out of breath.

          Ben said, “Thanks, Sergeant. Could you please wait outside? Thanks.”

          Hardoon wanted to take the inmate apart, but said, “I’ll be right outside,” glowering at the convict.

          Ben resumed staring at Malphree.

          “Why didn’t you stand by what you said? “ he challenged.

          Malphree was in a state of shock.

          “Tim, the problem is that everything you do exhibits fear. Unless you own up to your murders, you can act tough, but in here, there are men who really are tough. They will find you out.”

          “You’re lucky you called in your ape.” Malphree said in a shaky voice.

          This angered Ben. “My ape? Okay. Why don’t we get him back here, and I’ll tell him about your threat to my life. That should get you at least a month in The Hole. Do you want me to get him back here?”

          Malphree looked furtive and crushed. His bluff called.

          “I’m not afraid of him,” Tim said.

          “You would be if you had brains enough to spit,” Ben said.

          Ben got up and opened the door. Sgt. Hardoon was right there. “Send him back to the Row,” Ben said. Malphree was now merely pitiable.

           “Are you sure, Ben?” said Hardoon, threatening. He clearly wanted to dismember the man.

          “Turn him loose.” As the two men started to move out of the room, Hardoon still loomed over Malphree, very threatening when Ben said, “Tim.” Both men halted.

          Ben met Tim’s eyes and said, “Remember.”

**********

          A few minutes later, Jute came back in. Ben sat down, He took deep breaths, trying to control his shaking hands. The fixed concentration in Ben’s face started to soften.

          “He doesn’t remember he threatened you,” Ben told Jute.

          “I thought you were going to hit him.”

          “So did I,” said Ben.

          “Christ,” said Jute. He was shaken too.

          A pause, then Jute said, “Someday you’re going to get me killed.”

          “I won’t have any of us threatened,” Ben said flatly.

          Dave Jenson, a personable young officer in charge of educational testing put his head in. “Sorry to interrupt, but you’re up, man.”

          “Up? What do you mean I’m up? Up where?”

          “The old man wants you.”

          “Oh, Jesus God!” Ben said, annoyed and having forgotten the warden’s call. “What the hell does he want?”

          “Who the fuck knows?”

          Ben looked aggrieved. “Give me a break.” It almost sounded like pleading.

          “He wants to see you about something – like right now. You know how he is.  I’d get up there if I were you. He’s very edgy today,” Jenson said.

          “And that’s news? Shit! Fuck! Screw!” Ben was like a little kid cursing.

          “He’s not one to keep waiting. It’s stamping on a volcano.”

          “Oh, shit!” said Ben with savagery. A look of vexation spread over his face at the thought of having to be attentive and pleasant this early in the morning. He would have to enact a posturing lie, a disgusting counterfeit of his real feelings. Jenson left.

          The phone trilled.

          “Should I get that?” Jute asked.

          “Assholes,” Ben snarled, feeling immediate relief from the inmate’s threat. “Who would be calling now, for God’s sake?” He practically shouted.

          “You better go,” Jute said.

          At that moment, a red, sweaty face appeared in the door, an officer. “the warden wants you,” he said to Ben.

          Ben stood up.

          “You’ve got Haines, remember,” Jute reminded.

          “I know. Watch things will you?”

          “At nine-thirty,” Jute said.

          But Ben had bustled out the door.   

          He had no sooner left than Malphree came in, looking about, nervous and flinching. “Is he gone?” he asked, glancing about, thoroughly unnerved.

          “He’ll be right back,” Jute warned.

          Malphree, however, was entirely rattled. “Jesus Christ, did you hear him? Holy shit! He was trying to nail my ass to the wall! Hardoon screamed at me. He almost hit me! Did you see that? Did you hear him threaten me?”

          “Hear what” Jute was all innocence.

          “Your stupid boss! He was going to let Hardoon throw me into The Hole. What the hell did he have for breakfast?”  Malphree was pale and scared.

          Jute thought a moment, then looked up and grinned. “You,” he said.

          “TIM, GODDAMN IT.” Hardoon had reappeared.

### 

 

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9 Responses to Red Gelatin Salad Night By Richard Sale

  1. Avatar David Solomon says:

    Hello Richard
    I read this piece a couple of times. I am not sure that I understand it at all. Unless, perhaps it is meant as a kind of round about way of commenting on our current political nightmare. But then again, maybe not. Would you care to explain further. I am not trying to be critical or saying anything sly. I just don’t understand.
    Regards,
    David
    PS: It has been a long time since you last posted. I have always enjoyed your posts, but this one leaves me at a loss.

  2. Avatar Donald says:

    I don’t know if it has a political meaning— I could probably assign it one— but I enjoyed the story.

  3. Avatar PostedHereAFewTimes says:

    Clearly, this post is a first-hand comment on how corrupt the US penal system has become, and why it must be reformed–from the “ground up,” as folks say.
    Why is it so many of you fail to recognize that?
    Why, also, are there so few comments on this forthright testimonial–from a man we all have come to respect?
    Is the silence because he is not backed by some vociferously promoted media channel?
    For my part, his message is clear, and unambiguous–

  4. Great. Where have you been, Mr Sale, to know these things?

  5. Avatar Turcopolier says:

    Richard sent the following note: “I haven’t posted much because on Feb.10, I had an accident that made me a cripple. I can walk only a walker.
    As to the story, Ben Falls is no bully. He loves the convicts he cares for. Malphree, the Death Row inmate, is a man without pity or principles. He has killed two people shooting them from a safe distance.
    When he threatens Ben’s life, “Some day you’ll get it crossing the Yard,” Ben knows that Tim deals in fear. But Ben doesn’t take the bait. He says only “Ouch.”
    He retails his story of being trained in hand to hand to combat to let Tim know he can handle himself. It is an indirect threat to Malphree.
    He exposes the murderer’s lack of courage by calling in an officer and asking hat Malphree to repeat his threat to him. The convict demurs. As Malphree leaves, Ben says, “Remember.” He wants the convict to think of Ben’s combat skills, the emptiness of the convict’s threats, and the man’s cowardice. Malphree has been spiritually destroyed by the encounter. He would he reluctant to threaten his clerk or anybody else.”
    (My printer is out, so please he patient.)

  6. Avatar optimax says:

    I think it’s an excellent story. I’ve never been associated with prison, on ether side, but the dialogue sounds realistic, reminds me of film noire and Hammet. Well done, Mr. Sale.

  7. Avatar Richardsale990@hotmail.com says:

    Thank you so much. And thank you David Solomon1
    The story takes place in May of 1970 a week after Kent State..
    There are many different layers in the story, but we watch a convict who has shot two people who threatens to cut another up another convict and who officialen a prison iofficial with his life.
    By the end of the story, the murderer is seen merely pitiable.
    Richard

  8. Avatar Turcopolier says:

    John Solomon
    “Dear David,
    I was so deeply moved by your note. I grieve to think of the suffering you have endured.
    Are things better for you now?
    When you are badly injured, you are immediately stripped of your sovereignty. You became a deponent who helplessness is resented.
    I wish you well in every sense. I thank you for your thoughtful reading of my posts. Be well, my friend.
    As to my posting, it is fiction set in May of 1970 just after Kent State. I intended it as a slice of life and should have said so.’
    Richard Sale”

  9. Avatar David Solomon says:

    Hello Richard,
    I manage day to day and I think you will find that you can manage better than you expect. Nevertheless, we are all getting older and contrary to popular belief, I do not believe that anything is very golden about the “golden ages”. Thanks also for the note about Kent State. I see now that as a post Kent State slice of fiction, it is very effective.
    Regards,
    David Solomon

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