Mariela and Emery were both in denial about being arrested. It was only when they were in handcuff, in front of a holding cell, being lectured about proper prison etiquette by a zombie clerk named Mr. Dally that the shock of it fully set in.
“And most importantly,” Dally croaked, holding up a gangrened finger in warning, “if I catch either of you mixing wine in that toilet bowl over there you can expect another five years added to your sentence. I lost my smell 10 years ago but that stuff stinks to high heaven.”
“Why would anyone want to drink where they crap?” Emery asked more out of a shock-induced curiosity.
“You’d be surprised what people will do for a fix.”
Dally slammed his hand on the counter as his eaten fingers pushed aside a few papers. Some fell to the ground at their feet. With another jerky movement, he brought one up from the pile.
His yellowed eyes scanned the paper before settling on them again.
“So here’s the deal. Your bail has been set and your trial will be scheduled at some future date. You will be allowed one phone call.” He jerked forward and held up one finger in each of their faces. “Just. One.”
Emery jumped back looking ready to swat at him before Dally fell back into his seat again.
“Until that point, you’ll be waiting there.”
He gestured to the single room holding cell in the back with rusted iron bars, concrete flooring, and a single metal toilet bowl attached to the leftmost wall. An old man in a dirty coat was stretched out on the bench against the back wall. Deep guttural snores escaped through his gaping maw and provided some white noise to the background. There was a narrow window over him with a thick metal screen. Only darkness laid beyond it.
“This is ridiculous.” Emery struggled with his handcuffs. He jerked his shoulders as his hands reached for his back pocket. “I can pay the bail–”
Dally shook his head. “We can’t accept your dirty money.”
“Dirty money?” Emery asked dumbfounded. “I earned every penny that I’ve ever made.”
“You’re criminals. When you stepped into the jailhouse, your present assets became dirty money. We can’t accept illicit funds for your bail.”
Emery’s shoulders sagged, his eye twitching ever so slightly. “ Tha-that makes no sense.”
Dally shrugged. “I don’t make the rules.”
Mariela cocked an eyebrow. “Then who does make the rules?”
Dally jerked his lip up in what was meant to be a snarl but ended up looking like a demented half smile.
“There will be no more sass in my prison, missy.”
Onion breath Palmer snuck up behind them and pushed them towards the holding cell. He uncuffed them and collected all the illegal contraband on their person. This was mostly loose belongings like keys, phones, wallets, Mariela’s notepad, and Emery’s pocket knife.
When he locked them in, Palmer held the knife up close to the bars with a smile. “Smuggling weapons into prison is another offense. You’d be lucky to avoid life with this.”
“I already had that when you arrested me, asshole.”
Palmer cocked his head. “Not the criminal mastermind you thought you were, are you?”
“You’re still full of shit though.”
Palmer clicked his teeth. “I’ll check these items in with the clerk. After that, you’ll each be allowed your one phone call.”
No surprise that their cell was just as depressing on the inside as it was on the outside. Mariela tested the bars and could feel jagged pieces of rust digging into her skin. One sudden movement would draw blood and have her dying of tetanus within the week.
Despite the snoring, there was a concrete absence of sound apart from the noise. It hung about the police station like its own separate menace despite the hint of life that rang just out of sight.
It was unnatural for a police station to be this deserted. Crime wasn’t low in Hollow Grove. She worked the beat of some crime stories in both the East and West precincts of town and yet this station was unfamiliar to her. They seemed to be the only ones here which couldn’t be right.
“What are you thinking about?” Emery whispered.
Mariela turned to him. “Did you happen to catch the name of this station?”
“Hey!” Palmer shouted as he opened the cell door. “It’s time for your phone call.”
He pointed to Emery with a smile. “You first, genius.”
Emery gave him the finger as stepped past the threshold. Palmer made a move towards Emery’s collar but he brushed past him. It didn’t stop the officer from grabbing onto to his arm to guide him out.
“They’re wasting your time.”
Mariela turned and saw the old man yawning. He smacked his lips and took her in with a smile.
“You’re not going to reach anybody in here, sweetheart.”
Mariela scowled at him. She opened her mouth to ask what he meant but then there were shouts from the hall.
Emery was being dragged into the room.
“This is bullshit!” he yelled as he yanked his arm away.
But Palmer was quick. He pinned Emery’s arm behind his back and pushed him towards the cell.
“If you keep resisting you will be tased,” He threatened.
“But that phone is broken!”
Palmer shrugged. “You shouldn’t have wasted your phone call.”
Emery looked ready to punch the guy but he was pushed into the cell just as Mr. Dally opened the cell door.
Palmer pointed to Mariela. “Your turn.”
Mariela turned to Emery. “What happened?”
“Their damn phone line is broken. I couldn’t get through.”
“I told you so,” the old man sang.
Emery looked ready to jump the old man but Mariela called back his attention as she slowly inched out of the cell.
“Who did you call?”
“Meredith. But it said her phone number wasn’t connected.” He gestured towards Palmer. “He had something to do it, I’m sure.”
The officer paid it no mind. He motioned for Mariela to hurry it along with an impatient wave.
When she stepped out of the cell, he pushed her ahead and directed her to the hallway. The dirty halls were just as dimly lit as the cell corridor. The main office was haunted by ghosts of activity. There were tables stacked with files, boxes of discarded takeout food and the faint click of a typing keyboard.
Every noise didn’t have a source. There was the disembodied typing and door slamming, the whispered chatter of conversation, phones ringing in some unseen corners. She couldn’t see where any of it was coming from. The question of which prison this was pressed in on her more acutely as she took all this in. There was no sign coming in, no document she could glean any information off of.
“Which prison is this?” Mariela asked before they rounded a corner.
Palmer lowered his head and spoke from the side of his mouth. “You should already know that.”
Mariela looked at him incredulously. “How?”
“I don’t need to answer your questions, criminal,” he said shoving her forward.
Palmer led her to a phone booth tucked into a dark corner. It was an old rotary line. The wires and receiver were caked over in dust. Mariela stared at the black handset wondering if she would be able to call anyone in this century with this thing.
She held the phone up to her ear and heard a soft dial tone.
Mariela contemplated her options. This phone was rigged somehow. Was it an out of state phone? Could it not make any outgoing calls? She couldn’t really experiment with it without wasting the phone call.
Mariela took a deep breath and tapped a few times on the number plate. She then dialed a number.
Officer Palmer side eyed her when the phone clicked.