he lieutenant turned, his slight frame casting a shadow upon the pink ceramic wall that, due to its angle, caused the shadow to lean slightly back from the vertical: ‘You know what you are being charged with?’
Ken leaned forwards in the hard wooden high-backed chair.
‘Yes and it’s all bull, we didn’t do any thing, the cops found nothing.’
The lieutenant pushed back the black, peaked hat an inch or so, in order to scratch a dark forehead. He restored the hat’s peak to just above the eyes.
‘In all cases of drug-trafficking there is no provision for the posting of bail, you will be held for trial at the Santa Clara detention centre.’
He had not been in the Caribbean long, but long enough to know the reputation of the dreaded Santa Clara detention centre.
‘Hey you can’t do that, I’m a Canadian. I got my rights. I want to see the Canadian High Commissioner.’
The lieutenant gazed bemusedly into his blue eyes. ‘I am sure the Canadian High Commissioner will be pleased to see you in Santa Clara.’
His introduction into the penal system was via ‘Brother Jeremy’, an acquaintance from Vancouver.
‘So they got you too did they?’ Jeremy sang through the steam.
Ken passed his clothes through the grill. ‘Jeffery, what the fuck man! Last time I saw you was -.’
The face slowly connected to a body as the hands waved away the steam.
‘Hey man don’t talk here see.’ He indicated the grill with a faint nod of the head.
‘See you on the range, you’ll be on five-c.’
He wondered how Jeremy knew which range he would be assigned to. Santa Clara was originally the British Army detention centre. It was designed to house 500 inmates. Upon independence, it became a civilian jail, new wings added in order to keep up with the surge in international crime; the older wing housing what was referred to as ‘the sensitive cases’, the newer wings the general run of the criminal population. To his surprise, he was assigned to the older wing.
The range held 30 cells and a corridor ran the length of the range. On the other side of the bars, was access for the guards and the administrative staff. The inmates were of mixed nationality: mostly from Europe, America and Australia with a sprinkling of Mexicans, an Iranian and Jeremy, the lone Jamaican.
He had immediately gravitated towards Jeremy. Questions were fired back and forth regarding: where they were they had been arrested, what were they carrying, who’s dope it was, who their main contacts were and other matters peculiar to the criminal profession. Upon the mention of Joseph, Jeremy became strangely silent. He ran a hand over his bald pate. Aquiline features betrayed Indian blood.
The lingering euphoria, brought about by the safety of his present range, where there was a distinct absence of any heavy handedness, so common in jails the world over and especially true for Santa Clara, and the meeting of an acquaintance from home, negated any feeling of betrayal. He soon adapted to the jail-house routine of sleeping, awaking at dawn, a breakfast of toast and cereal, wash down the range, playing cards in the day area, to followed by lunch, consisting of the invariable ‘mystery meatloaf’ or goat curry. Card-playing, or the reading of out-of-date magazines or library books, again filled the afternoon, then a supper much the same as the lunch. The only difference being the addition of a fruit salad or a slice of very thin pie, all washed down by sweet, strong tea taken from an urn, sitting on the sally port. The actual urn sitting on the outside, the spout on the inside. The only purpose for this, as far as he could ascertain, to ensure that no one spiked the tea.
At seven o-clock there is a staccato clacking as the locking mechanism caused all the cell doors to simultaneously open, the slow sliding-motion of each door allowing the tired inmates to rest on their bunks. His cell-mate, a taciturn Spanish-type, who, when Ken approached in an effort to initiate a conversation, gave a blank stare and a ‘Nil comprendre’, muttered through broken tobacco-stained teeth. He had dismissed the man from his thoughts having accepted the fact that, due to incapacity to speak English, the man, for his purposes anyway, did not exist.
On the third day, there was a minor bombshell. He was cleaning his teeth, over the basin situated above the toilet.
‘You from where?’
Tooth-brush still in his mouth, he looked up towards the top bunk. There on the steel ceiling, words written with the aid of a lighted match proclaimed: ‘f— capitalists and the capitalist system.’
Through the foam, he had replied dumbly, ‘Canada.’
‘Where about in Canada.’ He had spat out the toothpaste as he answered ‘Vancouver.’
A look of comprehension came into dark eyes, situated in a ferret-like face containing multiple razor scars, numbering in the hundreds, but so minute as to cause Ken to wonder what type of instrument could have worked with such precision. Their relationship from this time onwards evolved into that of the teacher and the student, as one taught the other the basics of his language. At first popular songs served as a base; ditties such as ‘vous Avoca, and Jo ariba’, easily translatable to ‘ you go, I stay.’ Further graduations featured the denigration of the guards with inappropriate pronouns. ‘El Casteleros now La Casteleros’ where the male prefix was supplanted by that of female.
The days turned into months, which then stretched out to the half-year. The feeling of timelessness was further aggravated by the absence of any change in the weather; any change only being noticeable through the high, barred skylights in the outer administration area. However, the trial date was coming closer despite all of this.
On the seventh month, he was summoned to the visitors area. A walk along a jungle-flanked pathway. Birds screeched and somewhere a dog barked. The two guards kept a close watch, their eyes scanning back and forth through the jungle, their hobnailed, army boots kicking up a small cloud of dust, as they inadvertently came upon a slight rise. Grey stone slithered under the feet of both prisoner and escort, their khaki shorts and shirts of crisp, starched colonial issue blending with his orange coveralls. Wrists handcuffed behind his back make walking, for the prisoner, even harder.
The door closed with a thud. As his eyes adjusted to the dimly-lit room, he became aware of a figure seated at the far end of the gray, steel table. Behind the figure, was a small, barred window which, upon closer inspection, revealed a sloping hill leading to a distant beach: upon the blue water a slight swell, upon the swell, wind-surfers looking like flying mosquitoes.
A voice commanded him to sit. That accent, what was it: Australian, South African, Israeli, British? A man sat at the far end of the table. He wore old-fashioned wire-rimmed spectacles hanging precariously from a thin beak-like nose, mounted in a sallow face. White, crumpled material making up an excuse for a tropical suit clung to a small frame; the material bunching awkwardly at the knee and the elbow. He snapped open a brief-case sitting on the table in front, extracting a file as he did so. Taking a sheet, he studiously examined the contents, occasionally looking in his direction. Finally, in a small unassuming voice, he instructed him to ‘read and sign.’
As he picked up the file, his alarm, caused by the crest of the international security agency situated at the top, turned to outright panic, as he read the contents. Non-disclosure agreements: confidentiality clauses, penalties and sanctions.
‘Hey I ain’t no stool pigeon, I’m signing nothing’ he spluttered indignantly.
The man gave a look of alarm tinged with compassion, his eyebrows, rising in concern, lifting the white hat at an angle to the sunburned forehead. He leaned forward, pressing an envelope into his hand, across the table, as he did so.
‘ My dear fellow,’ he spoke in soft concerned melodious tones, ‘are you crazy? Do you know how long you will last, if you are transferred to the general population? You will be, if you refuse to sign, you know,’ he added ominously, completely at odds with his former self.
Visions swam before his eyes, sounds assaulted his ears. The bloody figure upon a gurney, glimpsed through an inadvertently opened door. That strange, sudden sobbing echoing from somewhere down the outside hallway. The screams and cries in the night followed by a stranger, sudden silence.
As he extracted the letter, his father’s Vancouver address at the top of the page jumped out at him.
‘Dear Ken,’ he had written, ‘I have placed you in the very capable hands of an old and trusted friend, do exactly as he says and things will go well, disobey and things will go badly for you. You will soon be meeting the other members of your team, you remember your old school-chum Jeremy, he is one, and of course there is the High Commissioner, who is with you right now, and then there is Jose. By the way how is your Spanish coming along, you were never one who was much for books and study were you? Lets hope you are more diligent in your present venture. Love Dad’
Pictures formed within his mind: snow-capped mountains against the fresh blue Pacific; the spring rain as it washed away the residue of winter from the winding, hilly streets; apple-blossom trees lining the neat suburban streets and the equally small and neat detached wooden-frame single-storey houses; some in need of a paint job, some needing new shingles, some with a small garden surrounded by a knee-high picket fence, the garden needing attention, toys and barbecue stuff sticking up all over. The vision created an almost unbearable longing for home.
“The old man never did give a damn did he? Let me hang out with that crowd in North Van, never told me the difference between right and wrong,” thought the youth. “Now he has sold me ‘like this’ in a business transaction; just like all his other deals. Would have divorced Mom if he though that it would have been cheaper, but no, he knew that eventually I would screw up and Mom would need a favor.” Wonder what this is going to cost her, he reflected sadly, as he signed the document.
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