It was the perfect blend of smoker’s cough and catchy doo-wop if it was played off tune on a dusty chalkboard. Harvey was more than tone deaf. His humming defied tone. It transcended it, killed it with a pitchfork, and carved the fifth circle of hell in its tortured corpse.
Mariela pressed her forehead and took a deep breath. The old man’s been at his post sleep serenade for a good thirty minutes and she never wished harder for anything’s cessation. It was the kind of sound that felt like its own presence, its own malevolence that wormed its way into the skull. She tried to ignore it but it was feeding her headache.
Emery was having a worse time at it. He sat at the front of the cell, arms folded, a muscle tick near his temple. She could taste the blood dripping from the daggers he was shooting at the old man with his glare.
Emery hit his fist against the bars. A boom cut through the noise and he pointed at Harvey.
“If you don’t stop that damn humming.”
Harvey shook his head as he tilted it back, eyes closed.
“The zombie likes it, you see. He won’t give me the good bits in the mess hall if I don’t do it.”
Mr. Dally pulled one of the file cabinets open. He unearthed wads of papers and dirty looking files. There was a whisper of sheets as they fell to the ground punctuated by crinkling. After a while, he waded up the mess on his desk and stapled them in odd places. Mariela wasn’t sure what he was doing. What was clear was that he wasn’t playing the slightest attention to them.
But Harvey wasn’t swayed. He continued his humming with renewed vigor, crescendoing into screeching cat territory.
Emery’s eyes twitched, as his neck deepened to a harsher shade of scarlet. He folded his arms again and cut his eyes towards her.
“You sure that call went through?”
Mariela rolled her eyes. “Not any less sure than I was five minutes ago.”
“Then what the hell is taking him so long?”
Mariela shrugged as she leaned her head on the bar. The coolness was quelling the headache kneading her skull. She tried to distract herself by trying to figure out the logic behind Mr. Dally’s system, debating whether he was doing legitimate office filing or some new age origami. She shook her head. She couldn’t afford to lose any more brain cells from the thought experiment. She was losing more of her cool to the noises.
Harvey held his head in religious euphoria as his humming increased in volume. Emery had reached his limit. He stood and made his way over to him. Harvey got in one last squeak before stopping abruptly holding his hands out.
“All done.” He said as he gestured towards Dally with a sly smile. “There. You see how happy he is.”
To Harvey’s credit, Mr. Dally abandoned his paper throwing to count the bugs gathering between his fingers. Emery still glared at Harvey with murder writ large on his brow. He folded his arms and hunched forward to stop himself from acting on the impulse.
Harvey stretched out on the bench flexing his fingers and toes with a few gross pops. He sighed with satisfaction as he put his hand on his hip and cocked his brow.
“So what are you two in for?”
Emery shot him a look. “Murder if you keep talking.”
“Oh, don’t be like that. We best get friendly with each other. We’ll be cell mates for a while after all.”
“I’ll pass,” he said turning away.
“People these days,” Harvey said with a click of his teeth. “So hostile, so impatient. This prison’ll teach ya soon enough.”
Mariela turned to him. “How long have you’ve been here, Harvey?”
He scratched his beard. “Well uh–not sure. Got a watch on ya?”
She shook her head.
Harvey pushed out his lower lip and stared at the ceiling.
“Well, let’s see…”
Mariela turned her attention back to Dally who went back to shuffling papers. This time he was wading up the pages and stacking them haphazardly on the counter. With such a shaky foundation they inevitably fell to the ground. The floor of the cell block was getting untenable even by Mariela’s cleanly standards. If he kept this up, they’d be drowning in it.
She shook the bars a little to get his attention.
“How long are we supposed to stay here, huh?”
He chucked a paper ball at her but it barely managed to make it over the counter. “Until your trial date.”
“And when will that be set exactly?”
“In the future,” he muttered.
“That’s not an answer.”
Dally stood suddenly and made his way to the door, dragging his right foot behind him.
Mariela shook the bars again. “HEY!”
But he kept moving. Slowly, painstakingly, until he was out of sight.
Harvey let out a wheezy laugh. “You’re wasting your breath.”
Mariela turned to him irritably. “What was that?!”
“I was arrested back in 67’ for pissing on a tree. I’m still waiting for my trial.”
Mariela and Emery blinked.
“You’ve been here since 1967?” Mariela asked in disbelief.
Harvey tilted his head with a wistful sigh. “I wasted my only phone call.”
Emery stood and shook the bars. “You can’t keep us in here forever!”
The metal rang loud as the bars resisted the strain. Mariela actually had to take a step back as the sound pierced her ears.
Officer Palmer suddenly appeared from the doorway and sped towards them.
“Stop that racket!”
Emery glared straight at him as he kept shaking the bars.
“Come in here and make me, asshole!”
Palmer drew his mouth into a thin line as he pulled out some keys.
He approached them with his head held low before softly muttering, “Your bail’s been posted.”
That finally made Emery stop. “What was that?”
Palmer sorted through the keys not answering the question. Footsteps echoed down the hall before September entered the room. Mr. Dally’s dragging steps slowly followed behind him.
From his slumped shoulders and tired eyes, he was only one coffee into the day. He sounded groggy when she got a hold of him. Mariela spent the first minute or so of the actual phone call explaining who she was and the relative year before getting into the situation.
When September’s eyes found Mariela and Emery behind the bars, he grimaced as he made his way over to them.
“What the hell took you so long?” Emery shouted.
“Traffic, mostly,” he said dismissively but the twitch in his eye belied his agitation.
Emery pointed at him in warning. “It’s been at least two hours and I know for a fact that you live less than 30 minutes down Grimwell.”
“Believe it or not, I don’t make a habit of bailing people out of jail so finding this address was quite difficult,” September said with a smile. He glanced at his wristwatch. “Besides, I thought a good hour would be enough time for reflection.”
Mariela narrowed her eyes at him. “You evil bastard.”
“Don’t give me that, asshole,” Emery said as his neck flushed red. “ I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for you.”
“I gave you clearance to investigate a story not to rack up a record,” September countered. “I assumed the two were mutually exclusive.”
There was a clunk as the cell lock unbolted. Palmer took a step back and presented the cell with a sweep of his hand. September swung the door open and motioned them out.
“Come on then.”
Palmer put a hand on September’s arm. “I’m afraid I can’t let you do that, sir.”
September’s eyebrows wrinkled in confusion. “Excuse me?”
Palmer snapped a handcuff on September’s wrist, the other on the prison bars.
“You’re under arrest.”
“On what charges?” September asked aghast.
Palmer held up his hand to count them off.
“Phone tapping, aiding in a prison escape, falsifying legal records, tax evasion, racketeering and various citations for disorderly conduct in bars across town,” Palmer listed off with relish. “You’re due to serve several lifetimes with your obscene record.”
Palmer shoved him in and slammed the door.
September clung fast to the bars as soon as the door was bolted.
“Funny that’s the only one you want to dispute,” Mariela said with a cocked brow.
“You somehow managed to tap into the prison’s private phone line, Mr–it’s Knight now, right.” He shook his head in disgust. “We’ll be sure to launch a full investigation into it.”
September’s eyes widened but he didn’t seem able to say anymore.
Emery stuck his face out. “What about our bail?”
“Your bail was made by a criminal with illicit currency,” Palmer said with a smug smile. “The payments null and void.”
“Then can I get my money back?” September asked.
Palmer turned on his heel and walked away.
There were a few seconds of silence. Just them side by side gripping the bars.
September side-eyed them. “You two had to get booked by Gallows Hall, didn’t you?”
“Gallows Hall?” Mariela asked.
September shut his eyes and pressed his head against the prison bar. “I’ve managed to avoid this place for so long…”
“How about you start making sense,” Emery snapped.
September attempted to turn towards them but the cuff twisted his wrist awkwardly. He settled on facing forward.
“Gallows Hall is the town’s unofficial prison. It’s more tailored to the less mortally inclined deviants in the population,” he said with a sigh. “I don’t know much about it myself but I do know that it’s impossible to get out without being charged with something.”
“So why the hell are we in here?”
“The prison can arrest anyone and has jurisdiction anywhere it wants at any given time. Being picked up is a game of chance and you aren’t processed through standard operating procedure.”
“But that’s not legal.”
“They don’t really care about legality, ironically. Besides, there’s no real way to challenge it since that would require us to get a proper outside lawyer. You can argue it to death in here if you want to though.”
Mariela leaned on the bars. “Then what will help us?”
September tilted his head. “Breaking out, supposedly. All charges become null and void as long as we’re not caught again.”
Then how do you suggest we break out?” Emery whispered.
Mr. Dally was eyeing them with one eye while the other was trained on the door.
September jerked his leg up when he felt a tug on his pants sleeve. Harvey was laying on his back looking up at all of them.
“Yeah, how we gonna do it, huh?”