a short story by Joan Horrigan
([email]joanhorrigan [at] msn [dot] com[/email])

Now that I got your attention and you got the privilege of my generosity, I’m gonna make you a deal. This ain’t no car dealer’s deal. This here’s a genuwine way to make some dough.

Just to show my honest regards to you, I’ll let you in on what happened and why this here’s gonna work. Now, I ain’t no good at writing, so you gotta bear with me in this letter cause I talk out loud as I write.

What started the whole thing was Charlie got sick. Now Charlie is the only friend I got in here at Statesville. So I couldn’t let him down when he asked a favor of me.

Trudy was coming to visit him, but Charlie wasn’t up to no visiting cause he wasn’t even up to getting outta bed. He didn’t want to let her down, getting sick and all, cause she’s the only one who ever came out to this hell hole to see Charlie. He was afraid if she took that long trip on the bus and then found out it was all for nothing, well, he was afraid she’d get mad and never come again. Then where would he be?

He’d still be in here in this prison hell like the rest of us jerks who screwed up and got caught. That’s where he’d be, but he sure didn’t want to go and lose Trudy. Charlie had plans to start a business when we got outta here. It was maybe even gonna be legal, if we could pull it off. Otherwise, Trudy’d have another one of her fits cause she’s temperamental as hell says Charlie. I’m gonna get in on it with him cause I’m the only one Charlie trusts, and believe you me, he can. I ain’t no fool. If you don’t have trust, you don’t have nothing in my book.

So’s the day Trudy came, I was supposed to go and tell her about Charlie and try to make her see that it was the damn truth that Charlie was not in the hole for anything bad or avoiding her or nothing like that, and she ain’t got nothing to fear or get mad at. As soon as she saw me coming to sit in Charlie’s seat at the cage window, I could tell she was suspicious by the look on her face. It was all fulla question marks and them big blue eyes of hers were getting bigger and bigger and her sugar mouth was getting all pouty-like. So’s I sat down and told her hello for Charlie, but she didn’t let me get a word in edgewise cause she said, “You can’t fool me, Benny Boy, I know you and Charlie are up to something now if he sent you. If you two don’t quit scheming this minute, I’m quitting him. You can tell him so because I can’t take no more worrying about Charlie being in here and me trying to hold things together till he gets out just so’s the two of you can turn around and go pull some deal and get yourselves put back in here. That just ain’t going to work this time, or no time ever, if that’s what y’all got in mind.”

“Calm down, Trudy,” I said, trying to make it sound real nice. In fact, I took on one of them psychologist’s techniques of making the other person feel good, just to show her it was the goddam truth. I had read up on psychology in here. Hell, I could even spell the word now cause I’ve been educating myself when I had the chance. Even old Tom who always stood watch on Thursdays could see that I was truly getting smarter and smarter. He even told Thurgood about it and they started giving me Mondays in the library too so’s I could get educated even more. Then I could get outta here quicker. Hell, if I got a high school diploma by March, like they said, I could cut probably five years off my sentence. That meant I could quit this place by September, if I played my cards right and passed that there diploma test that they made you take. Hell, that was gonna be a cinch for me cause reading was my thing now. It was better’n even going to chow sometimes, and that’s saying a lot.

“Trudy,” I tried explaining to her, “Charlie has nothing but your best interests at heart, and he ain’t pulling no deal. It’s just that he’s so sick he can’t even get outta bed and that’s the truth. He said to tell you to keep your chin up and don’t give up on him, cause he’ll be fine soon and will see you next time you come. He told me to tell you he even has a special message to tell you then, that only he can say to you himself.”

“Oh, yeah, I just bet he does!” she said back to me in that independent tone. It was obvious she was not buying this, so I went on.

“Trudy, I think that special message is supposed to say [i]I love you[/i] cause you’re all he talks about in here.” I was lying at this point cause I was using psychology on her, and that’s what them psychologist guys do. They even make money at it, even up to a hundred smackers an hour. They even say fifty minutes is an hour cause I read a book called that and it was in plain sight on the cover, called [i]The Fifty Minute Hour,[/i] right here in the Statesville Library, and they don’t have nothing here that is supposed to corrupt no criminals. They like to call us that, but we ain’t no criminals. We’re just guys who gotta bad break and everyone gets them sometimes. So’s the way I got it figured, if them psychologists make money like that, and they ain’t called no criminals, and they are even looked up to in society, and they say fifty minutes is an hour right to your face, then that ain’t supposed to be lying. But personally I think it is cause I got more scruples than that, and I’m in here. What I told her was a damn lie, but I was trying to let her down easy so she wouldn’t get mad at Charlie and not come again.

“Did he really say that, Benny? Really?” Trudy started asking it so sweet-like and all that I even had to tell her more, so’s she’d be sure and believe me.

“Of course, he said that. Why even yesterday, he was telling me about how beautiful you were and how kind and how you always made it a point to bother to come out to this godforsaken place and how that showed you had a good heart and how lucky he was to have a gal like you.” Hell, I was even using better English just talking to her like that. Thurgood told me that would help me get a job faster, if I started saying stuff like ‘are not’ instead of ‘ain’t’ and talking more positively about things. So I’ve been practicing it, but it sure don’t seem to make no difference in here to me. But at least it’s something I can practice on, and these guys in here don’t even notice when I’m doing it. But Thurgood said he noticed, and he was putting it in my record so’s I could get outta, oops, out of here by September, and it’s already February.

It must’ve been working because Trudy said, “Why, Benny that is the nicest thing to say to me! I want you to know that I really appreciate it and I am going to be back next week, just to check with you about how Charlie is doing. Uh oh, the guard says I have to leave now, but you remember that I will be back to see you. Tell Charlie hello and I hope he gets better. Bye now!” That there was the start of it. And she did come back every week while Charlie was sick. We would talk about all sorts of things. I told her about all the books I was reading and about what they said. She told me about how she had started fixing up the house she had and how she had got a better job now that was only eight hours a day. She thought it was so beautiful out, what with the trees starting to turn different colors like yellow, red, gold and brown. She said that soon it would be September. She claimed she was so proud of me. She was even looking forward to me getting out of here and finding a good job and making something of myself. Trudy thought I had potential and said only a guy with potential was the kind she would ever be interested in.

I would tell Charlie, when I got to visit him after every time she came, about all the stuff she told me so’s he’d start feeling better hearing about Trudy’s job and house and the trees and all, but he seemed to be getting worse because now he looked like he weighed only a hundred and forty pounds. He used to be over two hundred and all muscle at that, but Charlie couldn’t even pick up the glass now to get a drink. I knew he was losing his muscles too by the way the skin was hanging on his arms and how pale he was getting, so I was careful now not to say anything that would get him upset, because he had to start getting well real soon or he would be a goner, and then where would Trudy be.

Well, to make a long story short, I got my diploma in March and now it’s September, so I’m getting out of here tomorrow. I even got my stuff packed up and a job waiting for me, and Trudy is coming to pick me up at nine in the morning. Now Thurgood just walked in and told me about Charlie.

So that’s why I’m finishing writing this here letter to you and offering you my deal about how you can make some dough, or at least make something better happen with your dough. It’s a legal way too cause I read up on it. Charlie and me were gonna try something like this ourselves. All I’m asking of you is to send ten dollars or a hundred dollars or whatever you can to this here Statesville Prison to build a new library cause I’ve read over half the books in it. If some poor stiff comes in here to spend more time than me, especially a lot more time than me, well, he’ll just be out of luck. Then when he gets out, he’s gonna be really mad and mean, not like me, cause I’ve learned a lot reading in that library.

Anyways you can get a tax write-off and save yourself some dough cause I know that from a book here too, which to my way of thinking is making money, and the more you send, the more you make it happen. If you gotta pay it anyway, put it somewheres where it’s really needed.

I would also like to ask your help with burying Charlie and helping to take care of Trudy, since she was depending on him so much. That too will make even more money for your write-off.

I’m signing off now, but I can’t mail this letter or send it by email till I get out of here tomorrow. I’m still an inmate and can’t mail it from here, but they sure need the money for here. If you want to help Trudy, her address is at the bottom.

Signed, your friend, Benjamin Worthington

[i]New York[/i]: Mary, will you look at this! Now here’s a way we can save some money. What do you say? Read this letter from a Mr. Worthington and tell me if we shouldn’t send that ten thousand dollars we’re supposed to pay to Uncle Sam to Statesville instead, as a contribution, and then we might pay less taxes.

[i]Los Angeles[/i]: Alex, what if we sent twenty or thirty thousand to Statesville so we can get the write-off?

[i]Houston[/i]: I am definitely going to give my charity donation to Statesville for the write-off after reading this.

On and on it went with people all over the country sending money to Statesville, and within three years, the new library was built and officially opened.

As for Ben and me, well, you know the rest of the story. However, we were really surprised when we got enough to send Ben on to college where he got his degrees and license. With a lot of planning and scrimping, we still had enough left to set up and open his psychology practice last Spring, which now is doing remarkably well. That library was the key to the whole thing, but that’s not the end of the story.

Yesterday, Thurgood called Ben and told him they had decided to rename the Statesville Library to the Worthington Library in honor of Ben. Then they asked if he would write another letter for a new gym.

Listed at Duotrope
Listed with Poets & Writers
CLMP Member
List with Art Deadline
Follow us on MagCloud