Neal McClinton, author of Re-Formed”, is a writer from Kilmore, Australia with a portfolio that includes scripts for film and television projects, a fantasy novel and numerous short stories.
Re-Formed narrates the story of a man who falls into a new relationship straight after getting out of prison.
Time is elastic.
Not literally, or at least if it is, I wouldn’t know – physics was never my thing. What I mean is that when you’re young a single day seems endless, filled with countless possibilities. Once you creep past thirty, 24 hours is a blur that gets broken up into a thousand pieces – shopping, bills, work, relationships, Instagram, kids, gardening, holidays, drugs, booze, Facebook, sports, gambling, religion, violence, sex, pornography, TV and all the other shit we fill our lives with.
Prison helps slow things down, no matter how old you are. Too much time to think, too much time to suffer. I’ve just spent over 1000 days as an inmate and it seemed like 10,000.
So here I am, a thirty-plus American male with grey flecked hair and soft brown eyes that nearly caused me some trouble on the inside. I’ve also got a few negligible tattoos, small teeth, a sketchy work history and a total of three years and five months experience living as a prison inmate.
Frankly, I’m lucky I only served a relatively short sentence. The last gig I did, the one I get sent down for, that could have cost me a good chunk of my life. One of the guys I partnered up with was something of a criminal superstar. Unbeknownst to me, the would-be armed robber I knew as Philip Rachon was a Mexican national called Ramon Saldovar.
Now Ramon had been a cop in Sinaloa but he’d also worked for an up and coming drug cartel. His job was to murder anyone whom the cartel felt was inconvenient. Ramon suddenly found himself persona non grata after he shot a prominent politician. He dropped out of sight and was caught six years later when the armed robbery he and I worked on together turned into a giant SNAFU.
The last gig I did, the one I get sent down for, that could have cost me a good chunk of my life.
I was able to convince my lawyer, who in turn convinced the authorities, that Philip/Ramon was the mastermind of the whole deal, and I in fact had tried to walk away but Philip/Ramon had threatened my life. I gave them everything I knew about Philip/Ramon – I even made up a few things just to spice it up. The look he gave me when we went to trial, shit I was fortunate I was given time at a medium-security joint or my former partner in crime would have surely shanked me if I’d ended up at a supermax with him.
The prison gate slides shut at my back and I flinch. I look along the long, straight road and don’t see a car in sight. No surprise really, nobody’s coming for me. Mom – non-existent, Dad taken by an aneurism when I was in my teens, sister vanished – last seen heading to San Francisco. I got a few cousins but I wouldn’t expect any of them to keep tabs on me and be aware I was getting released today.
What to do? I ask myself the question as I begin plodding along the side of the warm blacktop. Neither my work life, nor my life of crime have been particularly successful – so what does that leave me with? My looks; hardly, my knowledge; even worse, my skills; mostly criminal.
What then? I can’t be any kind of public servant with my record. Maybe some sort of minimum wage factory gig? Hour after hour stuck on a processing line – might as well turn around, walk back inside those life-changing gates and hope I find myself a nice Andy Dufresne/Red type friendship to help ease the time.
Perhaps I should accept my fate, find myself a construction job or do yard work with a wetback crew and just give up. Thirty-two, I remind myself, as I glimpse civilisation on the edge of the horizon – or at least what I think is a gas station. A third of my life gone, if I’m extremely lucky. Only one third left really, it’ll all be downhill in the last trimester anyway. So that’s it, thirty -two years of decent life left if I chose to use it. The gas station draws inevitably closer.
Truck driver, I wonder as a rig rattles past me and showers me with dust. Nope, probably needs licences and shit. The gas station is a big outfit that caters to the interstate trucking crowd. I scan the huge diner section looking for a driver who might take me north – I’m think of heading to Frisco – ask around about my sister. Nobody jumps out at me so I take a stool at the counter.
Perhaps I should accept my fate, find myself a construction job or do yard work with a wetback crew and just give up.
I order coffee when the waitress arches her thick eyebrows at me. She’s probably 40, verging on fat and obviously thinks her cleavage is her greatest asset. Her uniform is at least one size too small and her tits seem to want to burst through the fabric. I start getting warm thoughts – verging on fat but not actually fat, is what I said. She barely glances at me as she places a mug on the counter, strike.
She’s probably used to losers like me walking up from Hawthorn Penitentiary and ogling her generous charms. She must get hit on all the time, most men probably just stare at her fantastic tits and never look her in the eye. I decide to take a different tack.
“Excuse me, miss!” I call out. She takes her time sidling over to me and I keep my soft brown eyes firmly fixed on hers. Her face is set, hard and defensive. “I’m in town visiting my brother,” I grimace and nod my head back down the road towards the prison. “Can you recommend a half-way decent place to eat and sleep?”
“Food here’s good as anywhere and there are plenty of motels around,” she answers without enthusiasm.
“Oh,” I feign hurt, “I’m very sorry to have troubled you,” I say and look down at the counter, it could do with a decent polish. She slides away without comment. I keep my head down but use one prison skill – peripheral vision – to watch her. She keeps glancing at me as she goes about her work. Got the hook in.
I finish my coffee and straighten my clothing as I stand.
“Miss, again – I’m terribly sorry If I troubled you unduly,” I apologise, laying on a little southern-type charm I picked up from a cellmate.
I get just outside the door before I feel a hand on my arm. I turn and face her.
“I’m sorry If I was a little short – you wouldn’t believe the shit – oh excuse me! – the stuff I have to put up with some days working in a place like this.”
“I can’t imagine,” I respond. “I’ve never been very good at talking to women anyhow – I always screw it up when I try and ask a lady out for a meal.”
“You were asking me out?” she replies and brushes her hair back needlessly.
“Well how about this, there’s a place called The Road Train in the centre of town, near the police station – if you decide to eat there maybe you’ll be lucky enough to bump into me!” she says playfully and scampers away.
Jesus, I think as I walk away, she’s got a seriously inflated opinion of herself. Give a chick a great rack and it goes straight to her head. Anyway, she’s at least a 50/50 shot, I tell myself as I walk around the corner of the diner before hitting the road again – don’t want her to see me on-foot.
It’s late afternoon by the time I reach town. I find a public library and use the bathroom to freshen up. Next, I hit a laundromat and boost a few pieces of clothing to help me close the deal tonight. Now money. I got released with about $20 in my pocket and I know that won’t cover the cost of a meal. I stroll around the town square as I try to conceive a plot to produce money.
I watch a cab pull into the parking lot of a small shopping strip. The driver, a husky guy with a walrus moustache, heads into a massage parlour.
I approach the car, my head on a swivel as I check for cops and the like. I walk past the vehicle and enter a small hardware store. I purchase a screwdriver, making sure to keep my head down as I pay.
I return to the cab and squat down next to the passenger door. A van helps keep me hidden from view. I use the screwdriver to force the lock open. It only takes me a minute to find the guy’s float. Eighty dollars and change. I pocket the cash and return to the library to wait out the rest of the day.
I leave a few minutes before closing time to avoid attracting undue attention. I head for The Road Train. It’s a decent place but only a step or two above a diner, certainly not chic enough to call itself a restaurant. I grab a table near the back, order a beer and wait. I sip that beautiful drink for the better part of an hour and tell the pushy waitress that I’m waiting for somebody.
I’m just about to call it a night and try and find somewhere dry to sleep when she arrives. She looks more demure than she did in her work clothes but she’s still left a couple of buttons undone. Eye contact, I remind myself sharply. I stand and pull out a chair for her. She asks if I’ve been here long and I avoid the truth.
“First beer,” I announce, holding it aloft.
She orders a vodka and orange and begins to talk. She talks and talks and talks until I’m so lost and bored with her tales that even the thought of her prize-winning tits almost fails to keep me motivated, almost. I hang on like that guy who got himself trapped whilst rock climbing and had to cut his own arm off. I know just how he must have felt. When it finally comes time to pay, I steadfastly refuse her offers to go dutch.
“Now, I’m no good time girl so don’t be expecting any first date action with me,” she says primly as I walk her to her car.
I go back to my aw-shucks bit.
“Oh, of course not – I’m only in town for tonight so I never expected a relationship, I just wanted to spend a nice evening with a pretty woman.”
She tries to throw a coy look at me but it falls a long way short, I fake a smile and look away.
“Maybe you can look me up when you’re in town next time,” she offers.
“Didn’t I say – my brother’s up for parole so I might not be coming back,” I lie. “So, thank-you for your excellent company and goodnight.” I walk away hoping and the silence stretches on for so long I begin to think she’s not going to break it.
“Oh, what the hell, you only live once, right?”
I turn to face her, a look of feigned confusion on my face.
“C’mon,” she urges, waving towards her car. I obey.
The next morning, sated and satisfied, I’m sitting at her kitchen table with a cup of coffee when she wanders in wearing nothing but a lacy little number.
“Shame you have to get back to work, last night was pretty incredible!”
“Yeah,” I agree. “I’ve been thinking about that and…well I had an amazing time with you – it’s never been like that for me before, not that there have been many…anyway I was thinking maybe I could call in sick – that would mean we’d have a few days together before I have to hit the road and get back to work.”
“Do it,” she agrees and lands in my lap giggling. I slide my hand under the lace. When she begins to moan, I throw her down on the table.
I spend three days as a kept man and decide I like it – I could live like this. This chick has a steady job, a car, owns a piece of her own home and probably has some savings in the bank. She could easily take care of me – better than tending bar or digging gardens. Money’s a problem but I quickly hatch a plan that takes care of everything.
I wait till she’s in the bath – she invited me in but I feigned exhaustion – and I slip quietly into the garage. It’s mostly a junk room – a repository for all those things she couldn’t quite bring herself to throw away.
I pick out a few high-end items, help myself to her car keys and visit a local pawn shop. I manage the whole thing before she even gets out of the bath.
Sunday is our last morning together – I’m supposed to be driving back to the city so I can return to work on Monday. We’re both quiet during breakfast.
I wait until I’m at the door before I make my move, I kiss her tenderly.
“I love you, I don’t want to leave you,” I say simply and look into her eyes. She makes a sad sound and falls against me. “Look, I’m thirty-two,” I announce, telling the truth for once, “You’re thirty-six,” or so she’d told me but I reckoned thirty-nine was closer to the truth, “We aren’t spring chickens anymore, we shouldn’t be wasting our time messing around when we both know what we want.”
“What do you mean?”
“I’m quitting my job and moving here,” I declare. “I can’t stand the thought of being without you.”
“But how will you get by?”
“Well, I’m probably being a bit presumptuous but I’ve got enough saved up to get by for a few months until a job turns up, especially if I don’t have to pay rent and utilities…” I let it hang.
She pauses long enough that I know she has to think about it, not ideal but at least she’s thinking.
“Of course!” she exclaims as if it had been a forgone conclusion. She drags me back inside, slams the door shut and slams me up against a wall. “I know just how to celebrate,” she says and pushes herself up against me. I bury my face in her chest so she can’t see me grin.
Seventeen days pass before the lies begin to unwind and she gets suspicious. To be fair, my nice-guy act started to fall away the minute she said I could move in; I think if I’d managed to keep it up, we could have lasted longer.
When she started to bug me about getting out and finding a job, I’d put her in her place. When she asked about my car, I told her I’d sold it but my story didn’t hold water. When she suggested we visit my brother, my efforts at evasion were half-arsed.
So, bit by bit it unravelled until she confronted me about the things she’d noticed that were missing from the garage. I’d sold a lot of her stuff by then and it got to the point where it was difficult to hide. I should have just moved on but I kept thinking I could make it work, I could find myself a place where I could just get by for the rest of my life – no shitty job, no failed life of crime, nothing to worry about but how to fill the hours between sunrise and sunset.
And to be fair my latest stint in prison had changed me. Not for the better.
I lied before, or at least I falsely implied that I’d managed to avoid that most notorious aspect of prison. Like Andy Dufresne and fuck knows how many fictitious and real prisoners before me, I’d been raped.
Delroy started off acting as my friend. He gave me advice, pointed out the characters and such. Delroy worked me till my guard was down, then he arranged for me to be gang-banged by a bunch of bikers and white supremacists. There were a lot of them – I know the exact number but I prefer not to mention it – they hurt me terribly in all sorts of ways. After that first merry-go-round they treated me as their plaything and used and abused me whenever they felt the urge.
Delroy, to his credit, passed on some of the bathtub booze and weed he received for setting me up. That was Delroy’s role inside, apparently the same as it had been on the outside, he was a pimp. I dreamt about killing him, hurting him but he ran with a crew that would have torn me to pieces if I’d made a move.
So, I tolerated it. For 1247 days.
I’m not sure if that’s why it happened. It certainly didn’t help; I think as I look down at her. Her face is red and twisted. Her body, trapped beneath my legs, is still warm.
I don’t think I meant to kill her. She was screaming at me, spit flying into my face. Yelling about how I’d used her, how I’d lied to her. She told me to get out and slapped me hard across the face.
I snapped and smacked her in return. She reeled back and I moved forward. She tried to hit me again but I blocked her arm and head-butted her. She crashed to the floor and took a hallstand with her.
She kept screaming as she tried to right herself.
“Get out, get out, get out, get out, get out,” over and over like a mad mantra. She managed to land a kick in my balls and I slunk down on top of her. She kept striking out at me and I had to use my knees to pin her arms down. I put one hand over her mouth to shut her up and squeezed her neck with my other. Next time I looked down she was still.
When I can move, I roll off her and sit next to the corpse. I stay like that all day. I finally shift when darkness falls.
I take some of her money and buy liquor and weed – the guy at the liquor store turned me on to the weed – and I spend the evening in a stupor. The next morning, I almost shit myself when her phone buzzes. I check it – she only has two friends, both work colleagues. The message is from one of them asking why she’s late.
I send a reply- Tell that Ahole I quit, me and my new man are going to hit the road!
I back her car into the garage and fill it with everything of value I can find. Getting her body into the trunk is hard, she’s stiff and heavy, I keep freaking out and dropping her but eventually I manage it.
I sit in the driver’s seat and try to think about my next move – can’t travel far with a corpse in the car. I give up and head back inside. Her computer catches my attention as I pace. I hadn’t bothered to steal it -I was worried about the fact it held all her personal details and shit.
I sit in front of the monitor and boot up the machine. I know her password thanks to almost three weeks of cohabitation. Everything is on here and she’d conveniently left a document listing her other passwords. I navigate my way through her life and realise I have all I need. I could sell all her stuff, put the house on the market – collect the hundred K or so she stood to make, and use her email to convince her friends and family (aunt, uncle and a few cousins) that she is still alive. I can’t believe how easy it all seems.
A little over a month later I’d done just that. All her possessions had been pawned off at a series of locations, the house was under contract – I’d done all the arrangements electronically and I was ready to go.
The one thing I couldn’t figure out was the body. It needed to vanish for my plan to work and I had no idea how to make that happen. I’d bought a big freezer and kept her in there for the duration but now I was ready to run and she was holding me back. In the end, I take her with me because I can’t come up with a better option.
I hire a box-trailer and haul that damn freezer inside. I figure I can keep her on ice till I decide how to get rid of her properly.
I hit the road on the first day of winter. It’s a cold morning, breath frosting before my face but her car is relatively new and comfortable. I have a few thousand dollars in my new bank account – transferred from her accounts – and the money from the house will come through soon enough. Life is good.
As I drive away, I wonder how long $100,000 will last. What will I do when it ends? I have an answer now – I’ll find another woman – a few years older than me, perhaps just a little desperate and I’ll see how things work out with her. I find myself relishing the prospect of reeling another woman in, I’d finally found something I was good at.
I look behind me at the trailer and wonder if perhaps I should look at buying a bigger freezer.