THE BAR CODE
The smirking whore in the
corner meant it was official. Not only had the cops made a serious
mistake by arresting him; but they’d also thrown him in
the wrong lock-up. What the hell was he doing behind bars with
They’d called him a faggot on the street. Stood glaring
at his white Jaguar, at the flawless cut of his raw silk suit
and could barely contain themselves.
You some kind of fairy, boy? Ain’t you in the wrong part
of town to come playing your sissy games?
Wrong part of town? He had no idea where he was. Confusing directions,
a few wrong turns and he was lost in the murky lair of West Side
gang turf. Here, hooded shapes loitered on every corner, watched
him with the confidence of predators circling helpless prey. Faceless
voices shouted above the Saturday night soundtrack of life on
dead-end street. How had he gotten here? He was supposed to be
at a wedding, dammit, and somehow....
Blue lights flashing in his rear view meant help had arrived,
finally. The cops could tell him how to get out of here. Maybe
even escort him, just until he got back on the freeway.
Instead, they yanked him out of the car. Dope dealer or pimp,
they’d asked, shoving him over the Jaguar’s hood..
After that, he wasn’t sure what happened next. Rough hands
moved down his body, up his legs, through his pockets.
A quick search of the Jag produced an ounce of hydroponic weed,
the new millennium’s healthier alternative high to home
“What else you got, kid?” the bigger cop growled.
“Better tell us now and save yourself some trouble.”
The other cop was flipping through his wallet.
“Says here you’re Delroy Benjamin, with a Gold Coast
address.” He glanced from the driver’s license to
his frightened captive.
“Is that you, or didja steal somebody’s wallet on
top of everything else?”
“Everything else? What’s everything? I haven’t
done anythi -“
”What you better do is shut your mouth unless we ask a question.”
“You did ask a question!” But it was hard to sound
convincing- especially after the cop found his vial of coke. Fear
rose like bile, as bitter as his indignation.
“I’m Delroy Benjamin. I’ve done nothing wrong
and I don’t know how I got here.”
“Don’t worry, smartass. The only thing you need to
know is where you’re goin’....and that’s to
Hell if you don’t change your ways.” A sharp kick
to his legs spread them wider, kept him off-balance as handcuffs
were slapped on.
“This one’s only twenty-three,” one of his tormentors
informed the other cops who rumbled up in the paddy wagon. “A
drug czar born every minute.”
“This is an outrage! I want your names right now! I’ll
have your jobs -“
But someone’s ham-sized fist slammed a swinging right hook
to guarantee his silence - and oblivion - for the ride to the
Now the whore watched as he retched in the corner.
“Don’t worry, honey. Always happens after an ass-kickin’.
It ain’t nothin’ to be ashamed of.”
A deep voice for a woman, rough as bourbon strained through broken
glass. Squinting through one swollen eye, Del glimpsed a stubbly
shadow beneath the make-up. Perfect. Locked up who knew where
with some cross-dressing she-male who now winked companionably.
If this freak tried anything.....
“Relax, baby. It ain’t that kinda party.” A
bony hand large enough to palm a basketball patted the silver
wig. “My name’s Capri and the only men I’m into
is payin’ customers.”
Pursing orange-slathered lips, the whore nodded toward the wooden
“Why don’t you get up outta that mess and rest yourself
over there. No sense sloppin’ in your own sickness.”
She - or he, or it - had a point. And judging by the way Capri’s
nose wrinkled, it wasn’t lust that prompted his suggestion.
But Del wasn’t sure he could move. At least half the bones
in his body must have been crushed after the cops stomped him.
Whimpering, he struggled to his knees.
“Yeah, I can tell you ain’t a regular ‘round
here. What is you, some kinda college boy?”
A gold tooth bared in Capri’s version of a smile. “That’s
right, honey. Crawl up on the bench.
Catch your breath.”
Del’s head was spinning. Christ, his whole body was spinning,
and it felt like he’d be sick again.
“Keep your eyes closed. You’ll get over it.”
Capri spoke with the authority of many jailhouse campaigns. “It’s
a shame, the way them cops do the young boys. Drag ‘em in
here, beat ‘em half to death.” Hitching ragged fishnet
stockings up coltish flanks, Capri shook his head.
“And I bet y’all ain’t done nothin’. Just
goin’ about your business, am I right? Yeah, I seen this
happen too many times.”
It was clear the young kid was too scared to speak. Too hurt to
do much of anything but lay there and moan. They were always like
that at first. Better to let him calm a bit, wait until that ragged
breathing settled, until he was sure Del was listening. “Bet
they didn’t even let you make a phone call, huh?”
Del couldn’t remember. There’d been only pain, flashes
of light, heckling laughter. Everything before that was a blur.
“Yeah, well, that’s how it is ‘round here. Don’t
expect no lawyer to be showing his face, neither. That ain’t
how it’s done.”
Was that a moan- or a mangled question from Del’s bleeding
“Ain’t no such things as ‘rights’ once
you’re on this side of the bars, child. And tomorrow morning,
you’ll find out just what kinda rights you got. They’ll
transfer your ass to the County Jail, put you in a cell with some
big ol’ boy gonna make you his bitch, and that’s all
she wrote. Nobody be talking about your rights then.”
This time it was a moan, - a piteous whine as Del struggled to
sit up. They couldn’t keep him in this hell hole. And there
was no way they could send him to County - was there?
“N-no! They can’t -“
”Oh, yes they can, hon. Happens all the time. ‘Specially
to a nice-lookin’ young man like yourself. They see you
got some education, maybe a little money, then they gonna mess
with you. Tomorrow morning, you’ll be bachelorette number
Del was blubbering now, choking sounds that preceded his tears.
They tracked in blood-tinged rivulets down his swollen face.
“I know it’s awful, child. And ain’t nothin’
I can do to help you, since I’ll bond out of here by morning.
But there’s a way you can help yourself.”
“Kick somebody’s ass?” Del rasped. “Doesn’t
look like that’d work.”
Capri’s eyes slid to the cell door, and the hallway beyond.
No one in sight. Unfolding his lanky frame, he minced toward Del’s
bench, perched on its opposite end. Dropping his voice to a whisper,
he leaned toward the sobbing man.
“Don’t ever say I told you, but there’s a trick
that’ll make them cops take you right outta this cell to
somewhere you can get help.” An even lower voice, now a
confidential murmur barely heard about Del’s sniffling.
“All you gotta do is play like you’re crazy. Pretend
you’re gonna kill yourself. Makes cops real nervous - especially
if they know you got family that could start trouble for ‘em.”
Capri ran a scarlet nail down his silk shirt.
“It works every time. Last time I was in here, somebody
tore up his clothes and strung a noose around the bars. Then he
started screaming like he was gonna end it all. Cops came running,
figured he was a nut case, and took him to the County Hospital.”
“I’m not crazy,” Del protested. “Don’t
belong in jail or the psych ward.”
“Use your head then, child. Once you get there, the doctors
will see you ain’t crazy.
You call your family, you get your lawyer, and they take you home.
That’s how it works.”
Del watched the nodding whore. In spite of the garish makeup,
he looked sincere, was obviously no stranger to these quarters.
Still, it was a far-fetched idea.
“What if it doesn’t work? What if they just come and
kick my ass all over again?”
“They won’t,” Capri told him. “There’s
a police boss in his office out there, and the only thing he wants
is peace and quiet. Somebody acts crazy, they go straight to the
Glancing toward the hallway again, he leaned closer to Del.
“This is a trick I learned in prison. Now I’m passing
it on to you. Part of the jail code, y’know? How else you
think a fine thing like me lasted around them big brutish men?”
It made sense, Del decided. He wasn’t familiar with the
social climate behind prison walls, but the odds were good that
Capri wouldn’t have survived long. He fingered the fabric
of his shirt, wondering. They’d taken his belt and his shoelaces.
His suit jacket would be too difficult to rip, so....
“You’re sure? You’ve seen this work before?”
“Every time, honey. Just stand up on that bench and start
shouting some craziness. All you got to do is put the noose around
your neck and scream. Watch how fast they’ll come running!”
The shirt wasn’t hard to tear. Even with his swollen hands,
Del was able to rip it in strips, tie it into the square knots
that Capri demonstrated. With his cellmate’s help, he looped
it up around the cell’s top cross bar, slid the noose around
his neck. And finally, balanced on the wooden bench to effect
his great escape.
Capri winked at him in benediction, Del’s signal to begin
“I can’t take it anymore!” he bellowed. “It’s
over! I don’t want to live anymore!”
As his own screams echoed off the cinderblock walls, it was hard
to distinguish the sounds that followed. Feet thundering down
a long hall, shouts from somewhere....and the explosion of wood
smashing against concrete - the bench Capri kicked out from under
Resuming his position on the other bench, Capri patted his silver
He watched with interest as the young man’s body lurched
and twitched, stilling finally like a slack-limbed pendulum. Amazing
that they fell for it every time.
Biting back his smirk, Capri’s face settled into an impassive
mask. The same blank look he’d use for the cops who now
barreled toward his cell - the one that meant he knew nothing,
had seen and heard nothing. Jailhouse apathy - the oldest code
2002 by Gina Gallo