Secrets Keep
by Linda Sillitoe

Chapter 16
James Hubbard 

[p.164]He had pretended not to see Baboon’s finger extend toward him, then crook as if pulling a trigger. But Baboon knew he’d seen and knew James knew what the gesture meant. You’re mine, Baboon’s finger had said. You’re my fresh meat.

James had been walking with Cretin back from the commissary after purchasing lined stationery, toothpaste, and a pencil. James had not given Baboon his nickname, though when he heard it muttered by inmates in the dining room, he’d known immediately who they meant. Clancy Jones’s long arms, reddish coloring and hair, and apish walk were distinct. His reputation both preceded him and continued in his wake.

After the incident James removed himself to some far corner of his mind until after lights out, telling himself Baboon had actually gestured at Crete, whose strawberry blond hair curled despite the prison cut. Crete’s glance at him when Baboon gestured said otherwise, for it showed fear not for himself as Baboon’s prey but at his near-miss from walking with James. “Look out, bubba,” Crete had muttered.

In the dark James thought of his cache of uppers and downers. Right now he had tranquilizers mostly, prescribed to help anxious inmates sleep. He stayed out of the cigarette market to make it [p.165]big with pills and occasionally marijuana. Did he have enough to end it all if it came to getting snagged by Baboon? He doubted it; but he could get more. He would concentrate on those two things, getting more pills and staying out of Baboon’s way. Also, when Crete went to work tomorrow, James would relocate his stash—but where? He could think about that until he fell asleep.

But sleep didn’t come. His icy feet told him he was scared, his shaking knees confirmed it, and he couldn’t concentrate on a hiding place. He’d been gradually loosening a tile under his bed, but it wasn’t ready yet. Maybe in the toe of his old gym shoe, taped to the top so that a hard shake wouldn’t expose them.

He breathed deeply and thought back to freedom but could only picture himself, years ago, standing outside the locker room while jocks like Baboon swaggered past. He’d been trying to pick a lock on a cheerleader’s locker and had tried to look as unassuming and natural as possible, considering that a nerd with a calculator on his belt didn’t belong near the gym.

As a kid, though, he hadn’t been a nerd. He’d been the best swimmer in his second grade class, the best runner in third grade. After fifth grade he’d practiced shooting baskets every summer in the hoop his dad nailed up on the garage, but he never could keep up with the other players on the court. “Be a little soldier,” he could hear his father saying, trying to raise James’s courage.

Right, Dad, James sneered in the dark. Baboon wants me. What do I do now?

But all he could imagine was the way his father always called him in to meet company in the living room. He insisted that James stand at attention before them and “make a deiner,” a butler’s brief bow to show respect. He taught James to do it the way he himself had, as a young boy in Belgium. James hated the deiners, and from six years old tried to avoid meeting company especially if they greeted his parents in German.

[p.166]Tonight he couldn’t get the picture out of his mind: James as a kid, making a deiner for fat old farts smiling on the sofa. Nor could he edge toward sleep with the growing sense that he might be making deiners again and again and again—this time for Baboon.