The Iron Writer Challenge #126
500 Words, 5 Days, 4 Elements
The Eiffel Tower
A Prison Cafeteria
The last sentence must be: “Clear!”
“Really? Picante sauce and mayonnaise? That’s disgusting.”
“No, sis it’s prison gourmet. You should have seen what we did Monday with cereal, coffee creamer and honey packets. It was off the chain.”
I taste the burrito and it’s ‘gourmet’ sauce.
“O.K.” I concede, “not awful. I was expecting worse but it’s still weird getting hot burritos from a vending machine.”
Actually everything in the visitor’s cafeteria is from a vending machine. Visiting my baby brother means picking up 3-4 rolls of quarters. $40 is a good chunk of barista tips, but it seems like nothing, I want to do more. I would have brought 10 rolls of quarters if we could spend it. $40 worth of food from the prison vending machine is already pushing the limit.
He’s been here for 2 years. Thankfully he’s no longer in maximum security with its 24-hour lock downs. He raves about his daily 45 min of fresh air, which he uses to lift. He’s becoming stereotypically huge. More than his body has changed. His hair is now long, beard and everything. Thanks to our Jewish roots he looks like Jesus. Or maybe Moses, which makes more sense considering his name: Moses Ezra, after our grandfather. He doesn’t complain. In fact he won’t tell me anything about what prison is like. He just wants to hear about what’s beyond the walls.
How’s my life? Not worth complaining to him about so I make up happy stories. But the truth is I struggle. I’m not sleeping at night – lying in my warm bed imagining him on a cot in a concrete cell. I imagine him cold, alone and afraid. Today he doesn’t look afraid, not on the outside. He looks big, strong and in control. I know better. I know he can never show it. Not if he wants to survive this.
There were twelve of them and two fake guns, a group of teenagers terrorizing our little town. They eventually made a stupid mistake and got caught. Most of the twelve’s parents have money and they lawyered up. Some even getting their kids out of the country. One boy is back at his family’s home in Paris, near the Eifel Tower. Money buys freedom and we’re broke. Two years down and four to go, he was just 17 when they got caught and will be 23 when he gets out. He’s too young for this life.
I visit every weekend. I must, even if it takes me most of the week to put myself back together. We bond over mayonnaise and picante sauce.
Times up. Guards come in and I start to cry. Moses never cries. He can’t show weakness, someone is always watching. My tears are selfish; making this harder on him. Helplessness suffocates me. Inside I am screaming at the horror of what happens next. The horror of walking out of this building and having no choice but to leave him behind.
Guards shout; “Tables clear! Room clear! Clear!”
The young couple were enjoying their honeymoon in France and were trying to enjoy their dinner at an outdoor cafe where the Eiffel Tower could be seen in the near distance. They were on a tour of some European countries and had been to places like Venice, Rome, Spain, and now France. The young couple was having a great time.
They sat at the cafe and as they waited for their meal, they kept hearing someone yell, “CLEAR!”, every few minutes. They were enjoying a nice glass of wine and some cheese but the shouting kept bothering him. “What the hell is that?”
“Honey, don’t let that bother you. We will eat our meal and get out of here. I have something romantic set up for you back at the hotel room.”
The husband’s curiosity was piqued and asked, “Oh yeah? What is it?”
“If I told you, it would no longer be a surprise. I will tell you that it has to do with some sexy lingerie.”
“Really? That sounds good so far,” he said with a smile.
“Yep and I got some lingerie for myself too,” she replied with a smile.
The bride chuckled and sipped her wine.
The waiter brought their food out and then the “CLEAR!”, was shouted again.
“Excuse me. What is that guy yelling clear for?”
The waiter didn’t understand English very well so his wife spoke in French to the waiter.
He answered her and she thanked him.
When the waiter walked away she told her new husband that there is some kind of construction going on and the ‘clear’ is to make sure that everyone is out of the way when the wrecking ball hits the building.
As they ate their food, he grimaced because the food wasn’t very good and then the shouting really got to the husband.
“OH MY GOD! If I hear that word one more time, I will just scream. I swear to God.”
“You are just being ridiculous. Eat your food and we can get out of here.”
She was getting frustrated with her husband.
“This food is horrible. You know what it needs? Picante sauce. I wonder if I can get some.”
Mathew, this France, not Mexico. Do…not…ask…for…picante sauce. Do I make myself…”
“Don’t say it. Don’t you dare say it.”
Red sludge slid from the giant old spoon in the line server’s hand, landing with a very unappealing sschhlipp on what the sign at the front of the line informed Jones was taco salad.
The last time, he thought.
“That’s the ugliest damn picante I’ve ever seen in my life,” Stan Vangieri muttered as he moved down the line behind Jones. “Looks like the face of that sumbitch hit my girl, once I was done with him.”
Jones looked down the long line of his fellow inmates, all in the same tan jumpsuits, mustard-yellow soft plastic trays in hand. Four thousand plus men in a facility made for 600, living in a juxtaposition of supreme boredom and tightly coiled stress: ready, waiting, eager for anything different to happen.
“Yes, Stan,” Jones said loud enough for everyone to hear. “We all know that you turned the boy who hit your daughter into hamburger. You sure do like to tell stories about boys and meat; meat and boys. Boy meat. That’s all we ever hear from you.”
Rough laughter rang around them, and Jones moved down the line without looking in Vangieri’s direction.
“You better watch your mouth, Jonesy. I don’t give a damn who’s baby you are. When I was done with that punk, he had a piece of his skull stickin’ out, what looked like–”
“The Eiffel Tower. We know. And you liked that because it reminded you of a penis.”
Vangieri slammed brick mason fists on each side of his tray, sending taco hell 6 feet in the air for 5 trays in every direction. Jones steeled myself for what was to come.
“Vangieri!”, roared officer Smith from across the cafeteria. “Let go of Jones now, get your tray and take your seat!”
“It’s OK, Stan,” Jones said casually. “Go ahead and feel me up, if that’s your thing.”
Vangieri’s face purpled and his ugly, rotten teeth gritted together so hard, Jones thought they might explode out of his stupid turnip head.
Officer Smith suddenly appeared in between them, his face nearly as tomato souped as Vangieri’s.
“Jones, I know damn well you’re running that smart mouth. If I see your lips so much as twitch, I’m taking you to solitary.”
The cafeteria is deadly quiet now. Everybody smelled blood, and they savored it. Drank it in. Jones raised his voice so everyone could hear.
“No need for concern, Officer Smith. Stan was just reminding us all how much he likes little boy meat.”
Jones never even saw what happened to Smith next. He was just gone, and then heavy, hard fists brutally crashed into his face and body again and again. He dimly heard the alarm that meant all inmates should be flat on the ground with their hands over their heads.
A team of officers in riot gear swarmed into the cafeteria, weapons drawn. The closest one zapped Vangieri with a taser, and quickly looked over the room for other trouble.
“Dammit Jon, the time’s not killing me, it’s all these nitwits on a twenty four hour basis for years on end,” said Marty for the thousandth time. “I think the guards are on average stupider than the inmates.”
“That’s only because you bring up the average, Marty; you have the curse of being an educated man in the pokey,” said Jon. “Aren’t you up for parole in fifteen or twenty years?”
“Fifteen years, when I’m seventy. And there’s no guaranty then. Christ, thirty years for embezzling a few bucks from a damn retirement home.”
“I thought you embezzled sixty million bucks from just about the largest nursing community trust.”
“Those Sunrise lawyers were preternaturally vindictive,” added Marty.
They sat finishing lunch, Marty starring into oblivion, Jon debating internally if he should let his friend in.
“How is it I’m your assistant?” asked Marty. “I know squat about electricity.”
“I put in a good word for you with Binks,” said Jon. “He’s not against you earning a few incentive points.”
They took the stairs up above the high bay kitchen, and Marty was breathing hard as they reached the top. The storeroom was used for canned goods; the heat from below kept everything from freezing.
“Do you know the biggest recurring risk to the Eiffel Tower?” asked Jon, seemingly at random.
“I don’t know,” said Marty, blinking. “High altitude winds? Lightning? Germans!”
“Nope,” said Jon. “Corrosion. Every seven years they strip it down and apply fifty tons of new paint.”
“How very interesting,” retorted Marty.
“I got my first crack at this old wiring about ten years ago,” said Jon. “It was laid in during the Taft administration. Every six months or thereabouts I’m up here restringing wire or replacing the light sconces for an hour or so. So just about six years ago I started my experiment. And here it is.”
Jon pulled some insulation out of the way and there were two sets of man bars, redundant man bars, made of what looked like high alloy steel.
“The other side of this wall is the warehouse where outside deliveries are made,” said Jon, “an unsecured area.”
“What’s this crud on the bottom of the bars?” asked Marty, grabbing one with his hand and feeling it bend outward from the bottom. “What?”
“All it took was a one twenty volt ac-dc converter, easy enough to get ahold of,” said Jon. “Attach the negative output to the bar, dab on a little high acid Picante sauce and insert the positive lead, and plug it in. Electrolytic corrosion and time, my friend. I just refresh the sauce every time I come up here.”
“When were you going for it?” asked Marty.
“Right now,” said Jon. “Are you in?”
“I’m not sure I’m in good enough shape to go running around the countryside,” said Marty.
“No worries,” said Jon. “Our conveyance awaits below. But if it came to that, my ac-dc converter makes a pretty good seventy two Joule defibrillator.”
“You would hit me with that rig?” asked Marty.