I got to know the Lieutenant very well.
Short of the Director, he was head cop at Siberia. And he wasn’t a bad guy. I wouldn’t call him a good guy, either. As a matter of fact, I was never even sure whether he was a guy or not. The only thing I was sure of was that he was a cop. I was very conscious of it all the time. He was too.
The Lieutenant was also very conscious that he was five foot three. He wore a high, peaked cap and elevator shoes that jacked him up to five foot six. The Lieutenant carried a clipboard with him everywhere. And he took names. All the time he took names. If your name got taken enough times, you went to a Disciplinary Hearing.
I attended my first Disciplinary Hearing a month after I arrived. I was brought down the mountain with the lunch wagon and told to appear at 1:30 in the Lieutenant’s office. The cop on the night shift had busted one of my letters to Joanie. In it I said, “The food here is shit.” You aren’t allowed to complain through the mails, so I had to go to the Lieutenant’s office.
After the road crews left in the morning and before I returned to be heard in the afternoon, the cops searched everybody’s locker. Dick Tracy sifted through mine. Dick Tracy was five foot five and had a nose that curled up on his face like a dead snake. Dick Tracy found my baby pacifier.
I got the baby pacifier the third day I was in Siberia. Chinchero, the little dope fiend who cleaned the visiting room, gave it to me. He found it under a chair. He knew my wife was pregnant. “It’ll be good luck for you to keep,” he said.
I threw the pacifier in my locker, where it was eventually buried under a pile of socks. ‘When Dick Tracy unearthed it, he ran up to the Control Room. The Lieutenant and his clipboard were there.
“Sir,” Dick Tracy said, I found this in Harris’s locker.”
The Lieutenant stared at the baby pacifier and hefted it in his hands. “It’s a baby pacifier,” he said.
“I think you’re right,” Dick Tracy echoed.
The Lieutenant rubbed his jaw. “I wonder what he does with it?”
He tried to find out that afternoon in his office at my first Disciplinary Hearing. The Lieutenant was sitting behind the desk. Lupez, the caseworker, was sitting behind him against the wall. Dr. Jekyll was in a chair by the door.
Dr. Jekyll was the nurse. He worked for the Public Health Service and ran the hospital. Dr. Jekyll had all the training required to check between toes at a public swimming pool. He and I didn’t get along. The first time I ever saw him, he was an ascending mound of suet at the ead of sick-call line. Jekyll weighed 280 pounds and his legs had been shot up in the war. He
told me I was faking. He told the dudes in front of and behind me the same thing.
Sitting on one of the Lieutenant’s chairs in his white pants, Dr. Jekyll looked like a mattress stuffed in a toilet bowl. He watched me as I walked into the office.
“Sit down,” the Lieutenant said.
I sat down.
The Lieutenant had two pillows under his ass. He looked five foot eight sitting behind his desk.
The Lieutenant held up my letter. “Did you write this letter?” he asked.
I examined it and handed it across the desk. “It looks like mine,” I said, “but I don’t remember sending it to you.”
The Lieutenant snapped back like a swamp turtle. “You know all mail must be read before it leaves the institution.”
“Oh,” I said.
Then there was silence. Or something that was supposed to be close to it. The Lieutenant was getting angry. When he got that way, he huffed through his mouth like a steam engine. The Lieutenant huffed all over the silence.
“Harris,” the Lieutenant finally continued, “in this letter there is a statement, and I quote, ‘The food here is shit.’ Did you write that?”
“It does sound like my letter.”
“You said, ‘The food here is shit’?”
“It is,” I said.
“It is not,” he said.
“I don’t see you eating a whole lot of it,” I said.
“But I’ve watched plenty of men here eat it, Harris, and they all like it.”
“How do you know?” I asked. “Have you asked any of them?”
“I don’t have to,” he said. “I know they like it. I watch them liking it.”
“Well,” I said, “you asked me and I told you it’s shit. Because it is. And I wrote it in my goddamn letter.”
“You wrote that letter?”
“Yes,” I said, “I did.”
Dr. Jekyll jumped to his feet. The room swayed toward him and he screamed. “That is in direct violation of subsection C that states, ‘No letter shall be allowed to leave the institution if it contains derogatory language about said institution.’ ” Dr. Jekyll sat down.
He was huffing great lungfuls of air in and out just like the Lieutenant. We all listened to the huffing for another minute.
Then the Lieutenant threw the baby pacifier on the table.
“What’s that?” he said.
“It’s a baby pacifier,” I said.
“It was in your locker.”
“Yes,” I said, “do you need it?”
The office was sounding like a roundhouse.
“What do you use this for, smart guy?”
“It’s good luck,” I said, “my wife’s pregnant.”
“Come on,” the Lieutenant said.
I tried again. “I don’t use it, I keep it in my locker.”
The Lieutenant smiled like a water moccasin. “We want to know what you use it for,” he purred. “We’ll keep whatever you tell us in confidence.”
I decided to lie. “I suck on it at night when I whip my pud,” I said.
The lie seemed to make them feel good. The huffing lessened, and they all smiled and nodded their heads. Except for Dr. Jekyll. He was on his feet again.
“It wasn’t issued to you,” he screamed. “You didn’t bring it in with you. It’s contraband.” Dr. Jekyll sat down.
I confessed. “Yes,” I said, “it’s a contraband baby pacifier.”
The Lieutenant leaned back. He was huffing, and smiled as he picked up the baby pacifier with his left hand. With his right, he slid his desk drawer open and pulled out a knife. It was a commando knife, ten inches long with blood gutters running along the face of its wedge-shaped blade. The Lieutenant waved it about for a while after he closed the drawer. Then he put the blade inside the pacifier’s rubber ring and yanked. Then he yanked again. And again. All together he yanked six times. The Lieutenant couldn’t dent the baby pacifier. His mouth was flat as a board and trembling in the corners.
“They are made out of very hard rubber, sir,” Dr. Jekyll said. He didn’t get to his feet to say it.
The Lieutenant listened, and went back to his knife. After three more yanks, the rubber gave, and his giant Jap sticker cut the pacifier in half. When he had finished, the Lieutenant watched my eyes while he threw both halves into the wastebasket. Then he smiled. Dr.
Jekyll and Lupez smiled with him, so I smiled too. We all smiled and listened to the huffing subside.
Finally the comers of the Lieutenant’s mouth stopped twitching, and he spoke. “You can leave, Harris,” he said. “We will notify you of our decision.”
I walked past the Control Room and out into the yard. It was a hundred and eight in the open spots. Jewell was leaning in the shade against Number 4. I walked over to him.
“What’s happenin?” he asked.
I’m not all that sure what it is,” I said, “but it sure does happen.”
Jewell and I laughed. The Lieutenant and his clipboard watched us from out the Control Room window.
The next day, I was told I’d lost nine days’ Good Time.