Alfie thought about hurling insults, he thought about punching Ryan in the face, but in the end, he rolled his eyes and stomped his heel to the floor. The angry clomp didn’t stop the snort of amusement from the man strolling away.
For the past few months, Alfie had been subjected to hundreds of colorful new names. Being called a dipshit arse-wipe by the prisoners was preferable over what the staff called him. Rookie, newbie, fish, tender meat—they were a few of his new names from his colleagues.
“It’s Alfie.” He hissed, then turned and leaned against the metal gate.
Alfie, that was all his mother gave him. His name that sounded too soft for the world, a weak name he was determined to strengthen. He was the youngest prison officer to work at Larkwood in decades, but so far, he’d only be assigned to the brain numbing nightshift. Every time a post opened up on days, Ryan, his superior officer, always denied him. He said it was because he was too inexperienced, but he couldn’t get any experience until they shoved him on days, even working the visitor’s corridor would’ve been a step up.
Ryan didn’t like Alfie’s age, and he didn’t like that he was from the care-system. He never said it, but Alfie strongly believed Ryan thought he was a plant in the prison by one of the cons.
“Have a good night, Rook.”
Alfie didn’t turn at the taunt. He breathed deep and exhaled to an internal count of ten.
The day shift had just handed over to the night staff. The graveyard shift where the very walls looked like they were shifting in the darkness. He stood inside G-wing, behind him was the lobby, and on the opposite side was another gate the led to H-wing. The lobby acted as a space to ferry prisoners through whatever gate they needed to go. Whether that was to the hospital, the visiting area, the church, or the classrooms. Alfie imagined it was bustling with activity during the day, but at night it was an echoing chasm.
Staring straight ahead without blinking, the darkness bled into Alfie’s peripheral, until only black splodges remained, forming faces, sinister ones that put the prisoners to shame. The prisoners had been locked up since seven. All of them accounted for in the droning roll call. It was surprisingly quiet, and the only sound came from behind him.
The office where the night staff munched on doughnuts and drank coffee after coffee. Where the lack of activity turned them to zombies, and the tug of weighted eyelid was too much. People never grassed on those officers that fell asleep, but it did irritate Alfie that it was always the same one. Henry, wrinkled and frail, had wisps of white hair hanging from the back of his creased neck. They might’ve been attached, but Alfie suspected they had been trapped in his folds of wrinkles or had been stuck there with glue.
Henry believed himself to be a crafty bastard. He lounged in a worn chair facing one of the camera feeds from the bottom floor.
Dark green sunglasses covered his eyes. He claimed they helped with his apparent glaucoma, but everyone knew it was to hide, so he could nap. Once Alfie walked right up to him, clicked his fingers, rudely gestured, then finally picked up a stack of heavy books and dropped them from a height.
Henry had jolted forward so violently the glasses had flung from his face, and he threatened to clip Alfie around the ear for trying to kill him.
Six of them worked the night shift, three officers assigned to each wing. The two others with Henry were Ben and Dan. Identical twins with identical mullets, and after two months Alfie still couldn’t tell them apart. They had identical smoking habits too, and often left the lobby to satisfy them. Henry and the twins were assigned to H-wing, while Alfie was assigned to G, alongside Marie and Glen.
Alfie cocked his jaw, then flashed an irritated expression over his shoulder. “Yeah?”
Marie’s cheeks were bright red, and she shifted from foot to foot like she was desperate for a piss. Behind her stood Glen, grinning manically, and staring down Marie’s open shirt as she jiggled side to side. She didn’t need a piss, but they were heading for the staff toilets.
“We heard a noise, gonna go check it out.”
Alfie nodded his head patronizingly slow. “Sure, and when I hear wails and moans, I’ll just assume it’s the ghost that haunts our shift…”
She cocked her head and wore an expression of bewilderment.
Glen leaned over and bobbed his head. “Thanks, bro.”
Alfie tutted and turned back to face the prison. “Don’t mention it.”
At least ‘bro’ was better than all the other names that had been thrown his way.
Henry always fell asleep, the twins took smoking breaks every ten minutes, and Marie and Glen disappeared for their intimate ghost hunts. Eighteen, and Alfie behaved the most professional out of all of them. It was somber thought, and he shuddered. He had to grow up fast in the care system, and he prided himself on being mature for his age, focused unlike his peers. His colleagues taught him with age, came less care. If they did the bare minimum, and got paid, they were happy. That was maturity in the workplace.
Alfie ran his eyes along all the closed doors, imagining the prisoners inside, most of them fast asleep.
In the center of the room was a metal staircase that led to the next rows of cells, and then another that led to the second level of convicts. Those were considered the more desirable cells, private cells instead of bunks. Those well-behaved prisoners could even buy curtains, luxurious duvet sets, and paint the walls as long as it was approved.
It was an incentive to do well—get to the top and you can make your cell a home. Fall from grace and find yourself at the bottom, where you’re welcomed by a bed of nails and a chilly draft from the outside world.
The gate screeched open behind him, but he didn’t turn to see who it was. There were tapping feet, murmured voices, and then the startled croak of Henry. The officers who had strolled into the prison exchanged small talk with him, but they were too far away for Alfie to hear clearly.
The voice drawled the word, dragged it out longer than necessary. Alfie didn’t recognize the voice and didn’t care who it belonged to. He knew who it wasn’t. It wasn’t his boss, or his ranking officer, Ryan. They were tucked in bed, probably together. Alfie huffed and shuffled his shoulders against the bars.
“Freshman,” he muttered. “Well, it’s a new one, I’ll give you that, but I’m not a freshman.”
“You should be. You shouldn’t be in a place like this, surrounded by the scum of the earth. You should be at university, your first year. Think of all those experiences you’re missing, all those firsts if you haven’t already experienced them.”
There was amusement lacing the man’s words, and Alfie was reminded of the other nickname the staff favored. He spun around fast, puffed his chest out and hardened his green eyes.
“I’m not a virgin.”
The air rushed from his chest at the sight of the man. He wasn’t sporting a white, long-sleeve shirt and black tie, but a tight grey t-shirt that barely veiled his muscular chest. His eyes were dark, by the dull light Alfie could tell they were blue, but the blue of the deepest ocean. A suffocating part of the ocean that squeezed the air from your chest until you could do nothing but sink.
“That’s a bit disappointing.”
The hypnotic eyes didn’t blink, they drew Alfie in and challenged him not to blink either. Bristles covered the man’s jaw, merging into his sideburns, and the hair on his head was light brown, in daylight it might’ve been blond. He smiled smugly, and Alfie knew he’d be caught admiring his looks and physique.
He shook his head, then stuttered. “Wh-what is?”
Alfie’s conversation skills had fled him, and he forgot what they had said to each other.
The prisoner cocked his head. “You being a virgin … I’m disappointed you’re not.”
Alfie shook his head and cleared his throat. “Watch what you say.”
He flicked his chin out to the officers, Ian and Keith, chatting to Henry in the corner, oblivious to the prisoner leaving their side. The prisoner leaned back, watched the officers for a few tense seconds, then turned his attention back to Alfie.
His shoulders were angled forward, the usual look for a man who had his hands cuffed at his back. The solid metal gate stood between them, and the prisoner stood a few inches from it. He couldn’t get to Alfie, but he grinned like he could.
Alfie didn’t want to give an inch, bow, or blink first. He had to show no fear, even though the giant in front of him was more than capable of crushing his head with a hand or decapitating him with a skilled kick.
The prisoner rubbed his lips together with a hum. “I don’t have to say anything, only have to look.”
Alfie frowned and wobbled his head in confusion.
Then the prisoner flashed his eyes down, roamed from Alfie’s feet right up to the ruffled hair on his head.
Alfie resisted the urge to shuffle at the attention, but he couldn’t stop heat glowing in his cheeks. The prisoner’s eyes metaphorically tore the clothes from his flesh, and left him cold, fighting the need to shiver.
A toothy smile spread the man’s lips, and his eyes crinkled. He looked older, but not in a bad way. The wrinkles that lined his eyes, and cut through his brow, matured him and made him look handsome.
“See, only a look, and it’s a fine look. I like what I see. I like it a lot,” he whispered.
“I said to watch your tongue.”
The prisoner closed his eyes and sucked his bottom lip as if savoring a taste. “Watch and tongue in the same sentence. That’s a dirty tease, Freshman. All I’m gonna imagine later is—"
“Last warning.” Alfie snapped.
The prisoner smiled, then nodded. “Okay, Freshman. I don’t wanna end on bad terms. I might even treat you to breakfast in the morning. I usually come down about seven.”
Alfie shook his head. “I won’t be here for your breakfast, thanks for the offer.”
The prisoner bunched his lips together, and lines of amusement appeared around his eyes. “You hurt my feelings, use me like that and run out in the morning. That’s harsh, Freshman. Most unexpected for a man with a pretty face like yours.”
Alfie snorted. “There goes your last chance.”
He knocked his radio to the gate, and the metallic ping got the attention of the chatting officers. They looked up and raised their eyebrows in unison. If Alfie wasn’t annoyed it would’ve looked funny. A progression of age through their eyebrows. The thirty-year-old Ian, had a bushy black set, the man beside him, Keith had streaks of grey through his, and then there was Henry, white and sparse on his brow all the way to his ears.
“What is it, fish?” Henry shouted.
Alfie chomped the inside of his cheek, then released the flesh and forced a smile. “Isn’t he supposed to be somewhere?”
The prisoner narrowed his eyes and stared to the ceiling as if considering some complex problem. Then he levelled his head and stared Alfie in the eye.
“Fish? If anyone in here shares traits with a fish, it’s Henry and his stench.”
The snort that escaped Alfie was involuntary, and he hid it with a shuffle. The prisoner beamed at him through the bars, eyes tracking the lift of Alfie’s lips he battled hard to control.
Henry didn’t hear what the prisoner said, but the other guards did.
“Nate, enough now. Come on, let’s get you in,” Ian mumbled.
Alfie took an involuntary step back at the name. There was only one Nate in the prison, Nate Mathews. On H-wing for triple murder. The staff shuddered at the mention of his name. Alfie assumed he’d look like a monster, scarred, with busted teeth and narrow eyes, but the man before him was attractive with an intimidating vibe that both scared and drew Alfie in.
Nate closed his eyes and opened them slowly. His lips twitched at the edges, and a smile bloomed over his face. “I’m gonna remember that pretty smile of yours, Freshman.”
Alfie pressed his lips in a hard line then raised his eyebrow.
Nate laughed, backing away from the gate. “Night, Freshman.”
Alfie didn’t reply, he turned back to watch his vacant wing of the prison. Gates opened and clicked shut behind him. Alfie listened to the clomp of feet, one set heavier, slower, an unrushed stride into the prison. A short time later the same gate opened and closed without the distinctive set of footfalls. Nate had been locked back in his cell.
Ian and Keith waved a goodbye to Henry, then opened and closed the several gates that led back to civilization. Alfie waited a few minutes before unlocking the gate at his back to join Henry in the office. He wanted to catch Henry before he fell back to sleep.
“So that’s Nate Mathews…” Alfie mumbled.
Henry stilled his hands, glasses inches from his face, then he lowered them into his lap.
“Evil that one. What he did to those men…” He trailed off, then shuddered before pointing at the filing cabinet in the corner. “It’s in there, the details if you wanna read them.”
Alfie glanced at the browning unit, with its dented door, and deep scratches. The files of each prisoner were on computer, but the prison still liked to keep a paper file on each too.
Alfie shook his head. “I know he killed three people, if that doesn’t make you evil, what does?”
Henry nodded. “Makes me despair the death penalty was banned. I say send him to America and let them put him down.”
Marie’s cackle broke their tense conversation. She appeared in the office doorway, shirt buttoned wonkily and thick fringe in disarray.
Glen appeared behind her, a dopy grin on his face and ruffled red hair. His rose-tinged cheeks made it look like he had run a marathon.
Alfie inwardly shuddered at the disturbing visual. “So, you sorted the noise?” he asked.
Marie cocked her head and wrinkled her nose. “What noise?” She stumbled forward at the slight shove from Glen.
“You know … the noise,” Glen said with zero subtly.
She turned to him, then whipped back to Alfie. “Oh, yes … the noise. Nothing, it was nothing.”
They moved from the door, giggling as they went.
“See, you need to be more like them. Young, playful. Not working in a prison at eighteen. Mark my words, you’ll either get depressed and turn to suicide, or end up on the other side of the bars hooked on drugs.”
Alfie sighed heavily. “Thanks for the vote of confidence.”
Henry waved his hand. “Not about confidence. You’re good, you’re efficient, but it won’t last. Sometimes the straightest men bend when they start working here.”
“Well, I’m already there.”
Henry stared at him like he had grown another head.
“I mean, I’m gay. It was a joke, about sexuality.”
Henry continued to stare at him and developed a twitch in his eye. Then he shook his head. “I would keep that to yourself in here.”
Alfie nodded, then gestured across his heart. “Noted.”
“Wait, that’s not how you get your kicks, is it? Teasing the prisoners, seducing them. That’s a dangerous game you’re playing if it is.”
“Of course not! I’m here to do my job.”
Henry picked up his glasses with a tut. “Nothing but a fish, an innocent fish waiting to be caught.” He breathed on the glasses before wiping them on his shirt.
Alfie twitched his nose at the slight odor in the air, before backing away.
Nate may’ve been a triple murder that deserved to be ‘put down’, but there was no disputing the accuracy of his nose.