Today's Reading

"They were planning to clobber the screws and grab the keys."

Muscles isn't impressed. His face has gone blank again, his standard expression.

"It was a plan, all set for now."

"No one told me."

"They could let us out any moment."

"I need a crap."

"Be my guest. Then you'd better get dressed. I don't think we'll be going home today, but if the plan works, we'll get to negotiate." Warren is talking to himself more than Muscles. A hostage negotiation is a concept too far for the big man.

Still no sound of the door being unlocked. The ugly possibility is forming that their fellow cons have decided to keep them banged up. There is no knowing what version of last night's conversation filtered down from the top landing.

Muscles says from the toilet seat, "Where's breakfast?"

Breakfast, so-called, consists of teabags, cereal, bread and jam with sachets of whitener and sugar, all in a clear plastic bag shoved through the judas hole. "I wouldn't worry about that if I were you."

"I'm hungry."

"They've got other stuff to think about."

"Like what?"

"Like taking out the CCTV."

"Whassat?"

"The cameras that spy on us all day long."

Thinking it over, there is something to be said for being shut up in the cell. The cons might think of it as punishment for opting out, but when the riot comes to a bad end, as it surely will, he and Muscles can't be blamed for the violence and damage.

"Banged up all day?" the big man asks.

"Could be."

"And nothing to eat?"

"They won't forget us," Warren says without the certainty he would have liked.

The level of noise on the other side of the door is increasing. No question: something unusual is going on. A bad-tempered debate, probably, about the next step. Trash the place or prepare for a long siege by pooling resources? Prison inmates aren't the best at evolving strategies. Surely the gorillas upstairs must have formed a plan. They ought to exert their authority over the hotheads.

"All we can do is sit it out, however long it takes," Warren says.

Muscles is sitting it out on the toilet.

The rigid prison routine is on hold for sure. Being banged up is harder to endure than usual, not knowing what to expect. If you know you're there for hours because of staff shortages you can pass time reading a book or watching telly.

Muscles eventually works the flush and gets dressed.

The commotion on the landing subsides in the next hour. Just the occasional shout, impossible to interpret as speech.

"Do you have to do that?"

Muscles looks up. "What?"

"Grind your teeth. It's getting to me."

There's a sound at the door and the hatch below the judas hole opens. Muscles, eager for food, gets to it before Warren.

Something is pushed through and the hatch slams shut before words can be exchanged.

"What's this?" Muscles asks, holding it up for Warren to see.

A sheet of soiled toilet paper has been pushed through.

The word SCABS is scrawled across it.

"Dickheads."

Muscles is frowning. "What does this writing say?"

"Scabs."

"What do they mean by that?"

Warren doesn't try to explain. "Flush it away and wash your hands." He puts the telly on.

Two or three hours pass and no one unlocks the door.

This excerpt is from the hardcover edition.
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