Oyster Boy Review 10  
  January 1999
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» Levee 67


Sure Thing

Jim Gilligan

In my dream like my life before jail, I was a thief who loved the chase. I was like an acrobat running and jumping with almost no effort. In my dream, I was an Ace-of-Hearts, and I had just finished this job inside this big house. I had pearls in my hands and for seconds, I watched them shine special with a touch of moonlight. When I heard the door open behind me, I ran from the roof top remembering the shine of the pearls. My running was the best part of me. It gave me the feeling of ease and full power. The faster my speed, the greater the cool glow of the pearls became inside me. When I jumped from the roof, it was directly toward the center of the huge full moon. I never remembered falling to earth in my dream, I always thought I might have been flying out to the stars like Superman.

I was having this dream a lot during my last month inside the Youth Development Center, which was this jail right outside Philadelphia for young guys under the age of eighteen. Each time I woke up from my dream during that last month, I told myself that I had to cool it. I didn't want to get in any trouble that would make me stay in the joint any longer. My release date was the same day as my birthday, I would be eighteen and on my own and there was no way I wanted to celebrate my birthday on the inside. If I did, they would transfer me to an adult lockup and that's not what you want to happen. I also thought there might have been a few guys who wanted to even the score with me before I left. I felt this way because I had been my cellmate's enforcer for his gambling rackets and I had made these guys pay off by punching their lights out. Franky, my cellmate, was a real operator. He was the meanest guy I knew. He took real pleasure if he could get over on a guy. He treated me okay. I was the baddest cat in the place.

The other thing that made it all the more shaky for me was the fact that my roommate had left just a few days before the afternoon I'm going to tell you about. Funny thing about my roommate's release was that it came five days early. Seems like they needed his space because there was a backlog of bad boys. It took him by surprise. It freaked me out because I felt safer with another set of eyes and ears around that were on my side. A lot of guys wanted to take over his gambling which I wanted no part of because of trying to stay clean. All these guys wanted me out of the way simply because they figured there was no way I would quit the gambling racket. There was a lot of money to be made.

Hell, I just wanted out to get a dumb job, a dumb apartment and be left alone. I didn't want anything to do with my addict parents, if they were still alive, and I wanted to forget all of my foster homes where I was alone or screwed around with. I just wanted to depend on me.

The yell of "Fire!" routed me from my dream that afternoon. "Fire! Fire!" I kept hearing louder and louder when the steel door of my cell banged open. I was first scared because I had seen guys trying to torch a guy's room because of some grudge. I pulled a string I had tied to my door and made it open up so I could see in the hall. "Fire? Where?" I yelled to the two guys in the room across the hall. They didn't answer but I could tell by their slow movements that there wasn't any fire going on.

It was this guard named Moyer yelling "Fire" to get us all up for a pre-chow once over. Moyer usually did have some strange ways of getting us all up. He lit firecrackers in the hall a few times, and sometimes, he watered a sleeping guy down with the fire hose.

Since my roommate had left, I had to keep a chair always close to my cot so I could pick myself out of bed. I wasn't really use to the chair and when I tried to use it that day, I fell on my ass. When I first arrived, I had crutches but they were taken away because there were too many times when they were used as weapons. I was left to my own locomotion to get around. I lifted myself from the floor and sat in my chair. I then made up my daily foot. I placed a scoop of Vaseline in the palm of my one hand and with the other, I held a handful of cotton. I then mixed both together until I had me one moist ball that was a little like putty. I put part of this mix up in the toes of my work boot and the rest in my heel. I had been promised months before by some social worker that I would be rigged for a special shoe but I never got it. Seems like the paper work was caught up somewhere.

After I had my boots on, I would do my foot tryouts. They only amounted to me walking back and forth in my room and hopping up and down to get the feel if my new foot would hold. My tryouts were cut short when Moyer came into my cell to talk with me. In the past, he came to see my roommate, Franky. Franky and me use to pay Moyer real good for favors. Hell, sometimes we paid him half of what we took in so he would let us operate, but whatever money we gave him, I thought it was worth it because he would get us anything we wanted. The thing I liked most was the fact that me and Franky never use to go to chow because Moyer brought us food. Man, I gained a lot of weight this way because, man, I love to eat, and I have to admit, I got kidded about it. Franky always said I was losing my quickness and that I shouldn't stuff my face all the time. I told him, I was still the strongest in the inside.

"Yeah, yeah, ya want anything?" Moyer asked me.

"No, nothing. Remember, I'm out of business, man. Man, that money I gave you the other day was my smokes money and it was for you to protect my butt and spread the word around that I'm out of business, remember?" I yelled, wishing I had some money for the last couple of weeks for smokes and stuff.

"Yeah, yeah, Christ, it's hard to believe you ain't got no money put away. Why ain't you?" Moyer asked me.

"I can give you info about a sure thing Franky was working on with Reds over Maximum. I gave him some of my money to put down," I said thinking it was okay of Franky putting a fix in for me because of my birthday coming and I was going to win some cash. It was just too bad that Franky wouldn't be around to see his fix through.

"Yeah, yeah? I heard about that. You know what you was betting on?" Moyer asked.

"Franky said it was a fight between one of Reds' boys and some new guy over in Maximum, and that Reds was handling the action, that's all I needed to know," I said. Moyer gave me a weird smile. It was the kind he had when he bet heavy on something that was sure to win. I knew he didn't know that Franky had put a fix in that would make the Reds' guy a winner and that was where Franky put my money. Franky told me he really didn't need to fix this fight, that Reds' guy would win but it was good to make sure. He also asked me not to spread the info around, that it was really something between me and him and that I shouldn't say anything.

"Yeah, yeah, who you think taking over the rackets since Franky left? You think Reds is gonna be the one?" I asked Moyer. I wanted to steer him away from asking questions about the upcoming fight and I also wanted to know what he thought of Reds. Reds didn't have a cool head. He got into Maximum by hitting one of the guards with a pipe, but word had it that he had really cooled out in Maximum and he was soon to come out and join the regular population. He had collected bets for Franky from the guys in Maximum. I thought he was okay, he never caused me any trouble.

After Moyer rattled off a dozen names of possible racket bosses, he said, "Yeah, me, I don't care at all which one of you guys is boss. It's you guys that have to do in each other to see who's the winner. I'll just sit back and wait," Moyer said shrugging his shoulders.

"Well I don't care either, just like you, I'm gonna lay back and see what happens. Sit back and relax," I said.

"Yeah, yeah, you got it right, but say, just wanna know something, Arty, how much weight you put on in the last month with all them extras I was bringing you guys, ten pounds, maybe?" Moyer asked me. He had that look that deli customers have when they watch the scales to see if you're giving them a true count on their meat.

"I'm putting more meat on 'cause I have an idea to put on more muscle," I said. I didn't want to admit I had put on fifteen maybe twenty pounds in one month. It was because the last month Franky was still in jail, he wanted a lot of cake and I joined him and really ate most of the stuff.

"Yeah, weight slows a guy, Arty. Tell you what, since you ain't walked over to chow in a long time, I'll get the new kid to walk you over." Moyer said then shook my hand. I wished I had enough money to give him extra on top of what I had already paid him to keep him happy but I had no more cash.

I went out in the hall and leaned up against the wall as Moyer went down the line of guys to give them a once over. When I looked down the hall all I could see was Moyer's rear end mushrooming when he bent down to frisk a guy.

"Yeah, yeah, what the hell is this? Looks like a bad side of a Siamese twin. Get the hell down at the end there and follow the big guy." Moyer said to the new kid who had just arrived on our unit the day before. He was a skinny, pimpled face kid with a pack of smokes in the pocket of his blue denim shirt. He looked real scared and I had heard he was one of the guys from up-state who had gotten caught with a couple of joints. Funny thing is, a guy like him gets the same time a guy from Philadelphia would get if caught with a car load of dope. So, it's real funny, there were these clean cut country types, who got busted for hardly doing anything, mixed in with the real cutthroat-murder-always-on-their-mind big city Philly types. It was nuts.

We looked at each other and it was Pimples who made the first move.

"If you need help or something, I'll help ya." He said looking in my eyes for a few seconds then setting them down on my foot. I didn't say anything to him when he offered help. I was too busy watching the other guys swinging around the huge puddles of water in the field. I hated the walk over to chow because the field was always muddy. The whole Youth Development Center was built on farmland and the grounds always seemed muddy from run-off water and from underground springs.

It was real muddy that day because it had rained hard the night before. I began to walk and I could see that my partner was uptight by the sight of me. Because of the way I walked, he probably thought I was going to fall on him. I didn't bend my knee much. Keeping it stiff gave me more leverage, but it made my upward body kind of rock, like I was having a fit. You might wonder how the hell could I be an enforcer. I might look like I'm broken down, but when I had a hold of a guy it was all over. I was always doing bench presses and was the strongest guy in the place. I was really good at catching a guy when he least expected it. With a little help of paying certain people, you could set up anybody.

When we were about halfway across, I had to stop and scrape mud off my boots. When I took out my plastic knife to do the job, Pimples lit up a smoke and asked me what happened with the foot.

"Mess up playing football or something?" He said

"Happened during a job I was doing," I said.

"Yeah? My dad one time was lifting boxes at this hardware store and dropped a box of hammers on his foot. He still walks with a limp when it rains," Pimples said all friendly like.

"This was about me breaking in somewhere, man," I said.

"Dog get you? One time I got chased by this farm dog which ate my shoe. Lucky it slipped off me when I was running or else he'd ate my toes," Pimples said looking at my foot and then saying, "How you do it?"

"Was this deli I use to work at. I got pissed at this owner 'cause he promised me a raise but he never came through. I decided to break in and steal a big ass TV he had always on to watch sports all day. I waited one night and lowered myself down the skylight. My foot got caught in the rope I was using and then my hands slipped off of it. Next thing I know, I'm hanging from my foot and looking down on top of his glass meat counter. I passed out until morning and when I did come around, my boss was coming in to open up. You know what that sucker did?" I asked Pimples who was all eyes at my foot. I felt like taking off my boot and showing him.

"He just let me hang there while he kept cursing me because I was getting blood all over his glass meat case. He then went in back of the store and came out with white towels, which he used to wrapped each piece of meat that was in the case. He held those lunchmeats like they were little babies, like they were kids or something! When he walked pass me to put the meats in the back cooler, he stood directly below me and while he dodged my drips of blood, he yelled, you hung the wrong way!" I laughed about it after I told Pimples. It was just so crazy, I just had to laugh.

We walked again and I could see Pimples wasn't loosening up. He was looking down into the mud.

"Me I got caught smoking a joint and stealing a car. Was my second time I got caught by the cops doing something. First time they caught me breaking into a beer distributor. I got to do six months," Pimples said all sad like.

"Man oh man, bad break, damn," I said half listening to him as we passed the Maximum security building and I saw some of the maximum guys walking inside the security fence that surrounded their building.

"Hey, Buckley," I yelled inside the gate. He was this gone black cat that had killed a few guys in some shoot-out in Philadelphia. He was okay, he won a lot at gambling.

"What ya want?" Buckley said. He was lean and had mean, awful blood-shot eyes.

"Hey, what's the game? Franky said Reds is taking bets. I wanna check it out with him. This man here wants some action," I said, thinking Pimples might as well know how guys pass their time in jail.

"Say what? The man told you?" Buckley said like it was a secret.

"Yeah," I said laughing a little. I got a kick out of drug guys. They're always the ones trying to be real secret like with any dealings.

"Reds is sure gonna check it out with you. You can bet on dat. Man, dat Franky, he's a crazy ass," Buckley said shaking his head. He then looked down to the ground and walked away shaking his head while talking to himself.

I explained to Pimples the killers and the crazy-hard-stupid-asses ended up in Maximum. I told him that me and him, the not so crazies, get a break and don't have to put up with having a fence about twenty yards away from where we lived. I warned him that sometimes a guy like him and me could end up in Maximum. "You got to be cool and not lose your head," I told him.

"Reds? He's cool?" Pimples asked.

"Kind of crazy but he's getting there. Still, you want to get on his good side. I seen him cut a guy once. He's as big as me and has long red hair. You'll see," I said.

Pimples was quiet and looked down-in-the-dumps for the rest of the walk until he yelled, "What was that! What's that?!" He was holding his shoulder while we were being belted.

I laughed and pushed him back a little. We both looked at the chow hall. Food was flying out the windows. It was mostly the bake potatoes. They looked like little cannon balls coming down on us.

"Food fight man," I said. Pimples nodded his head and kept it up to watch for anymore incoming. It soon ended and then we headed to the front doors of the chow hall.

When we got in the chow hall most guys were leaving for the basketball courts with some guards. The building me and Pimples lived in was the last building to be called for chow. They had already been called and there was hardly anyone there except for Moyer and some guards near a table with Reds and his guys.

The food walk through was deserted by the kitchen help when we grabbed our trays. I could reach over the counter to serve myself but there were only lots of string beans left and they were giving off a strong salty smell.

Finally a kitchen guy came out and said, "You got something, I'll get you something decent."

"We'll give you smokes," I said giving Pimples a mean ass look while I grabbed his smoke from his pocket. I then handed them over. I didn't care, I was hungry and wanted fast results. To get the guards to get up to get us something was a joke. I gave Pimples such a look that he knew better that to start anything with me.

As we waited, I explained to Pimples that it was even better to get a few joints for the kitchen help so they would treat him the right way, then I got him to turn around to check out the chow hall.

There were about five guards talking near the table that held Reds and his guys. I explained to Pimples that believe it or not, the chow hall was a privilege for those guys. If they caused trouble in Maximum, they had to eat in a room in Maximum where they couldn't talk and they had a guard always watching them. I then looked at the table where Reds was seated. He was this tall lanky guy with long arms and big hands. He looked like he had been working out. I could see the muscles in his arms when he kept pushing his long hair out of his face.

Reds was looking right at me, I could see he hadn't touched his food. He just sat at his table and looked at me. I waved him over thinking I could get on his good side telling him Pimples would be betting on any gambling he had going on and when he nodded his head, I felt someone tap me on my shoulder.

Me and Pimples turned around to see that they had gotten the retarded girl to serve us. She was a helper who took all kinds of orders from the kitchen help. Franky told me she was from a nut house and went back to it every night after work. It was about more of that rehab stuff.

Like I seen the kitchen help do, I pointed out to her what I wanted. She followed my directions to the freezer and when she stopped in front of it, I said, "Ice cream, plenty of it, now!"

She started to pile small blocks of chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry on a big plate. Me and Pimples started laughing and kept edging her on by saying, "More, more!"

Soon, some of the guys in the seats in back of us caught on to our ice cream pile and someone yelled, "Hey, Arty, getting some ass?"

Before I could turn around to see who the wise guy was, I was nailed on the head by a tray and fell face down on the floor. Then, I heard people yell, "Fight, Fight!" When I tried to push up off the floor, I saw guard shoes around me and when I looked up a little, I saw guards pushing guys out of the chow hall. Someone started kicking me in the side and when I tried to get up, I saw Moyer racing over and I thought he was going to break it up. I tried to get up, but my leg didn't help so I tried to cover up by pinning my stomach and all against the floor. The guy kicked me so I swung an arm around the back of me and grabbed hold of a sneak and pulled. When I felt the guy go down on back of me my hand slipped from his foot. He then griped my bad leg and squeezed and twisted it.

When I raised my head up in front of me to see what was going on, I saw Moyer grab hold of Pimples who looked like he was going to try to help me. There were other guards there and a couple of them were asking Moyer if they could still place bets. One guard yelled, "Go Reds, twist the sucker off!"

"Door's closed!" Moyer yelled to all the guards as he held Pimples in a headlock. After Moyer yelled, about six guards formed a circle around me and Reds. I could see they were going to let the fight happen.

As the pain from my ribs shot through my body, I heard a laugh and a out of breath Reds said, "I'm the sure thing."

I was had, no one had to say anything more. I started to go animal and with a yell, I reached back and got hold of Reds' hair and yanked it until he let go of my foot. I kept pulling until he fell down beside me. We then grabbed hold of each other's neck and squeezed. It seemed even for a little while until he started to make funny little noises for air. When he put his hands down, I got him in a headlock and with my other hand, I got him around the waist. Then, I put the pressure on him. For a time there, I had no sense of Moyer and the other guards trying to pull me off of him. It was only when Moyer started beating me over the head with a square of frozen ice cream in his fist that I told myself to let go.

At least they couldn't get me for murder, I thought as the guards lifted me up.

"I give up, I give up," I told Moyer and the other guards. They all first looked at me like they could have killed me. A few of them started looking Reds over and said he was alive. Then they picked him up and pulled him along to the infirmary. Me and Pimples were then pushed to the guards office right outside of the chow hall.

They sat us both side by side from each other and we both watched Moyer who was sticking a finger in my face.

"You lost! Got it!" Moyer yelled to me as I was trying to still catch my breath.

"He lost, right?" Moyer yelled to Pimples who looked at me. I nodded to him and then he nodded to Moyer.

"Good, good. If you ain't figured it by now, yours truly is handling the rackets. You losing made us all a lot of money, and we don't want to lose it right?" Moyer asked. Me and Pimples both nodded again.

"Moyer then went on to say that if we both kept quiet about things, we would both get done our time under his watchful eyes. Pimples then looked at me and Moyer did also.

I nodded my head then Pimples did the same. Nothing was certain, but I knew it was best to take our chances with Moyer. To tell Moyer no, was like doing yourself in. Hell, I wanted to still get out with what was left of me.

Moyer had a guard take Pimples back to his cell, and when it was only Moyer, me, and a few guards left in his office, Moyer gave me his quick wicked smile. The kind I seen Franky and a lot of other guys have when they were in charge. I had even used it sometimes.

"Yeah, yeah, kid, for smokes, you deserve it," Moyer said picking up my hand and putting some cash into it. I stared at it like it was something from outer space and while I was feeling it in my hand, Moyer said, "He bet your own money against ya kid. He thought you be a pig to slaughtered. Thought you leave here from the infirmary. Leave it to your old friend, Franky, huh? Even he couldn't figure fat don't slow a fat boy," Moyer said laughing.

He kept on laughing and then the guards laughed with him. As I looked down at my bad foot, I knew two things. I had to be on their side and laugh with them. The other thing I knew was that I was going to make it out of there. The only thing that gave me a little trouble was the laughing. It took me a few seconds, but I did.