While it’s been a hectic few weeks as the school year wrapped up, I’ve still been working on my writing. Currently, I spend most of my time editing the first draft of my novel that I finished a few months ago. It’s a long process. I’ve decided to post an old short story of mine, and I would love to get some feedback. I originally wrote this while at FIU, and I’ve tinkered with it from time to time since then. I tried to develop a distinctive voice for the main character, Clean Willy, but I’m not sure that I was entirely successful. Feel free to let me know what you think.
The Jambalaya Pull
It happened. Clean Willy lost his grandmother’s jambalaya recipe to his nemesis, Head Guard Stout. Clean Willy watched as the behemoth followed closely at the whistling warden’s heels, his beady brown eyes glaring into each passing cell. And as the pin-stripped warden approached, Clean Willy realized conjugal visits were more trouble than they’re worth. He rested his elbows on the cell bars and began to formulate a plan to get back his Maw-Maw’s recipe. He smiled. It will not happen again.
“What on earth is that vile stench, Mr. Stout?” the Warden said, wrinkling his face so that his dyed-black mustache seemed to wipe the odor away. The Warden possessed a naturally foolish looking face; vacant-eyed, with a round, rosy nose. No expression really seemed to fit it; eyes blinked doltishly, thin mouth hung slightly agape. Worst when he concentrated, his brow would furrow then his eyelids would roll up like runaway window shades. It was no wonder the state of Louisiana had the man captaining the closing prison.
Head Guard Stout tapped the bars of the cell with his baton. The noise echoed down the hallway. “Clean Willy, sir. He stinks.”
The Warden peered into the darkened cell. Clean Willy folded his arms over his oversized orange fatigues. He looked up at the Warden. It wasn’t as if the man was exceptionally tall, Clean Willy was just exceptionally short. His childhood was spent being teased, about being short, and skinny, and stinky. After dropping out of high school, he relied on the only asset no one ever made fun of—his lightning-quick hands. He became a thief; at first, stealing from the bullies that had ridiculed him, but eventually moving on to bigger and better pulls.
“By God, man, Clean Willy indeed.”
Clean Willy lifted his right arm and sniffed. He found nothing offensive; but then again, he was used to his own smell. Ain’t never used antiperspirant. Why start now? He thought.
Stout jabbed at Clean Willy. “Don’t get too close, sir. He has quick hands.” He turned to the Warden. “He got the nickname from his criminal cohorts. Seemed to think he was very clean as he robbed estates.”
Warden Densa turned his back to the cell as Stout spoke. Clean Willy snaked his hand through the bars and into the Warden’s pocket. He pulled out the man’s antique timepiece, unclipping the gold chain from the lining in one motion, before the man stepped away. He slid his hand, wrapped securely around the timepiece, back into his oversized sleeve.
“Yes,” the Warden said, “I’ve heard tell of such legends.” He looked back at Clean Willy, expression as blank as his now empty pocket. “At fourteen, the youngest Master Thief of the New Orleans Thieves Guild. Perpetrator that stole the French Consulate’s collection of rare gems.” The Warden nodded.
“And the Consulate’s daughter’s cherry, Warden.” Clean Willy smiled.
“Grand steal, that strumpet. Pity she turned on you. Wonderful dress at the hearing though.” The Warden cocked his head, eyelids rolling away, as if he was remembering the dress, then looked back at Stout. “Lovely to have stars in our midsts, eh? Especially with The Chef coming tomorrow.”
Clean Willy thought the Head Guard’s dome was about to burst. His cheeks and neck turned a glorious shade of candy-apple. The Head Guard had stolen almost every personal item Clean Willy garnered, that with near constant cellmate transfers were all in an effort to steal Clean Willy’s only valued possession, his grandmother’s award-winning jambalaya recipe. It had been a slippery two years, but Clean Willy was wily, and thwarted Stout’s every attempt, that is, until the last one.
The man used the one weakness he knew crippled Clean Willy, women. The Consulate’s daughter was brought in for a conjugal visit, and while gone, Stout purloined the recipe.
Clean Willy kicked himself for not realizing the plot sooner. A guard had told him two days earlier that when a Death Row inmate requested the dish, Stout contacted a man known only as “The Chef” about the recipe. Maw-Maw’s jambalaya bested The Chef’s for ten years in a row at the Marti Gras cook-off, and it seemed as if Stout was using the quasi-cooking star to angle his way out of the prison.
Clean Willy, despite the growing anger within, still enjoyed seeing Stout’s face redden, especially when the Warden strolled about chatting with prisoners.
“Mr. Stout, you’re looking a bit feverish. Shall we visit the nurse?”
Clean Willy swore steam escaped from the Head Guard’s ears as the Warden just stood there blinking.
“So it’s jambalaya The Chef’s cooking, right sir? I’ve got a new recipe for him.” Stout grinned at Clean Willy, then led the Warden away to continue inspecting the other prisoners.
“Is that the package you have me storing for the man?”
Clean Willy flashed a smile at Stout, whose face continued its impossible reddening. The pair passed from view.
“Can’t have any oh that jambalaya, Stout,” Jumbo Jones called from the next cell, “ain’t you on Atkins?” After a moment, Stout’s baton rung against Jumbo’s cell and the inmate cursed. “Dang, that hurt, Fatty.”
“They gone?” Clean Willy’s cellmate said from his bunk. Herbie Keys, locked up for cyber-theft and credit card fraud, trembled at the thought of Stout and the baton which had broken four of Herbie’s fingers during the raid for the recipe.
“Yeah, they gone.”
“Too far this time.” Herbie sat up. “Word is that son of a bitch is flippin’ your recipe tomorrow.”
“Maw-Maw’s recipe, Herbie. Best jambalaya in Nawlins. Stole it back from The Chef once, ‘bout five years ago. She left it to me. Trusted me with it. Gotta get it back”
“Come on, now. I tried to help you and look what it got me.” Herbie held up his bandaged right hand. “Sorry, Clean, we’re stuck in here and your grandma’s recipe’s good as gone.” Herbie pushed up his prison-issue glasses with his bandaged hand, then plopped back down on his bunk.
Clean Willy paced the cell. He pulled out the Warden’s timepiece and popped it open. “An hour till shift change.”
“Don’t do it, chief,” Herbie said, hidden by his bunk. “You’re not even a cook.”
“Yeah, you right.” Clean Willy stared at his cellmate’s injury, but Stout had stolen the most important thing to him. He shook his head. “But like Maw-Maw said, it’s the principal oh the matter.”
Herbie snored as Clean Willy popped open the timepiece. The new guards on shift had been in place for two hours. It was Wednesday night and Guard James patrolled at the end of the hall. The janitor, ol’ Mr. Biggs, mopped along the corridor shaking his hips and bobbing head to some bad reggae in his walkman. Clean Willy moved over to his bunk, pushed up the mattress, and pulled out a deck of playing cards.
“Hey, cap,” he called to Guard James. “Something new from me bag of tricks?” Aside from Stout, the other guards weren’t that bad. Most of them liked Clean Willy, especially the ones that used his sleight-of-hand tricks to win at poker. With most of the guards, all the information he ever needed was always a trade away. Anything he couldn’t find out from the personnel, he learned by scouting during down time at work, while in the yard, or sneaking away from one of the life-skills programs like knitting.
The porky guard ambled gracelessly up to the bars, and Clean Willy wondered if being morbidly obese was a job requirement at the prison. James had no hair, salmon-colored cheeks, and approximately seven chins.
“What’d ya win last week?” Clean Willy asked.
“A couple hundred and butterfly cufflinks.” The man’s toothpick flopped on his swollen lips with each word.
“Dis’ll sure sweeten the pot.” Clean Willy showed James the ace of spades. He tucked his hand down his sleeve and emerged with the Warden’s timepiece.
“Wow,” James said, “you think that’ll work?”
Clean Willy shrugged, and let the ace slide out of his fatigues. It slid just through the bars and James bent over to pick it up. Clean Willy made to reach for it, but instead moved his hand to the guard’s belt loop and unclipped the keys and id badge. He pulled his hand back into his fatigues and accepted the card from James.
“Ain’t they playing tonight?” Clean Willy said, handing the guard the timepiece. “You can get a few good hands in with dat?”
James nodded, gnashed his toothpick several times, took a couple deep breaths—preparing himself for extend travel—then started toward the metal staircase as fast as his rotund legs could carry him. After a few moments, Clean Willy heard the guard clanging up the stairs. He pressed his face against the bars and saw Biggs mopping along the very center of the corridor; the only part of the hallway the cameras couldn’t monitor. The aging prison’s security system had blind spots all over, one of the many reasons the state was cycling prisoners out in preparation for the closing in six months.
Clean Willy pulled out the keys, unlocked the gate and slid it open just wide enough for him to pass through.
“What are you doing?” Herbie said in a groggy whisper.
“Gotta go pull back Maw-Maw’s recipe.”
“Have you lost your mind?” Herbie sat up. “Even if you get by Biggs, the cameras are on, and if Stout catches you he’ll lock you in solitary forev—”
“I ain’t worried ‘bout the cameras. Guards playing No Hold ‘Em, and James
just went up there. Dey ain’t paying no mind to them screens.”
“What about Biggs?”
“Look,” Clean Willy moved to Herbie. He stared at his cellmate, sweat starting down his forehead. “Maw-Maw was the only one who ever trusted me. Me whole life she was the only one who never laughed at me. The only one who never made a face when I walked by. She left me her jambalaya. And I’d rather be locked up here a thousand years before I let Stout, The Chef, or anyone else use it to make name. I ain’t no cook, but it’s the principal oh the matter.”
Herbie shrugged as Clean Willy slipped out of the cell and rested the gate closed. Janitor Biggs was crazy, constantly mumbling and occasionally drooling. Gray dreadlocks reached his lower back, and if he really got into his music while mopping, he’d start to dance and the locks would whip-whirl around, making him look like some wild wildebeest. He would mop the entire hallway leaving the unmonitored section for last. Then he’d push the mop ahead of him through the corridor and dance behind it, leaving footprints all down the hall. Stout hated it. And crazy Ol’ Biggs knew only one dance. The Electric Slide.
Enraptured by the music, Biggs gyrated through the corridor.
“Clean,” Jumbo said from the next cell, rushing up to the bars, “what you doing?”
“Going to get Maw-Maw’s recipe.”
“Man, get me my cigarettes, too. Stout pulled dat shit from me the other day.”
“When I get to the desk, make a racket. Get Biggs’ attention.”
Jumbo Jones nodded, then Clean Willy turned his attention back to Crazy Ol’ Biggs. The janitor neared the end of the hallway, just past his cell. Clean Willy knew he’d have to follow the janitor’s steps and be careful not to leave any new prints on the floor. He took one deep breath and leapt, landing precisely on a set of Biggs’ prints.
He could almost hear the music from the headphones. The dreadlocks whipped as he stepped. Right, right, right. Clean Willy stepped behind him in rhythm. Left, left, left. His hips swayed. Back, back, back. His shoulders shook, the beat now firmly cemented in his head. Forward, back, forward, kick—He panicked when he realized the next step was a turn…
Crazy Ol’ Biggs never turned, he just stepped forward, humming the beat the whole time. Clean Willy took care to precisely follow where the janitor stepped as they moved down the hall. The old man picked up the pace by the final few cells and Clean Willy kept up nicely.
Just as they approached the guard desk, and the end of the unmonitored section, Biggs stopped. He tilted his head up. Clean Willy froze. There was nowhere to go, his cell was too far away and the cameras rotated on their bases at the end of the hall. The janitor sniffed, once softly, then again much more forcefully. Clean Willy’s eyes widened. He could smell him.
Clean Willy waved his arms, frantically pushing the smell to his right. Biggs took a half step that way, sniffing. Clean Willy took to the left, stepped on the edge of the mopped portion, and leapt over the small desk. He landed on the balls of his feet and wiggled underneath. He saw Biggs’ boots walking in a few short circles, still searching for the source of the wayward stench. The boots approached the desk and stopped mere inches from Clean Willy.
“It’s electric…” Biggs said, moving away.
“Boogie woogie woogie woogie,” Clean Willy whispered.
Jumbo Jones’ cellmate screamed out. “I’m touching my toes, Hommie.”
“Shut up, Fish,” Jumbo said. The distinct sound of ass-slap echoed down the hall.
Biggs started down the hallway, mumbling to himself about the unclean nature of sodomy. With James’ keys and id badge in hand and the guards busy at poker, he knew he could get anywhere in the prison. He pushed himself out from behind the desk and donned James’ blue jacket that had been slung over the back of the chair. It swallowed him. He snatched a cap then handful of toothpicks from James’ stash before continuing.
He turned down the hallway, head down, and moved straight for the guard’s locker room, which he knew was just past the cellblocks at the end of the long corridor. He muffled the rattle of the keys, but Clean Willy knew Jumbo would keep Biggs busy, and he reached the door undetected.
The knob turned with a violent click, and Clean Willy slipped into the locker room. Steam wafted from the showers, clouding the mirror, and more importantly, condensed on the barred window Clean Willy hoped to use as an escape. The lock on the bars looked rusted, making the pick a simple turn, but there was no way Clean Willy could safely and silently make it up to the ledge without the showering guard noticing. He scanned the room. Several bags, dirty clothes, and a pair of baseball mitts with a ball tucked in one of the gloves. He pocketed the ball.
“And I, eee, I…” The man belted out Whitney Houston, holding the “I” until his voice cracked, “will always love yoooou.”
“Where y’at, chief,” Clean Willy said, ducking into a stall.
The call startled the guard, as Clean Willy heard the man slip. “All right,” the guard said, poking his head out from the curtained shower. “Who there?”
Clean Willy peeked through the stall. “James’ got some beignets. Hungry?”
“I’ll be up.” The guard closed the shower and moved quickly to his locker.
Clean Willy slid the fastener on the stall and scrambled up to the barred window. He glanced over his shoulder to the lockers, situated between the stalls and showers, and heard the man hastily dressing. He’d be around the corner momentarily. Clean Willy fished a toothpick from the jacket pocket and played with the rusted lock. He fiddled with the browned mechanism, pulling the base in hopes it would pop. The showered guard dropped his baton and Clean Willy glanced back.
The slam of the locker door resonated. The toothpick snapped as the sound of clipped keys approached. Clean Willy slipped, his foot catching the handle and flushing the toilet. He dropped onto the seat just as the guard turned the corner.
“All right,” the guard said as the flush bellowed through the room.
Clean Willy heard the man pull the creaking door and exit. He scrambled up to the window and used a new toothpick to finish picking the lock. After another moment, he pulled the lock and swung the bars open on their rusted hinges. He forced the window up, and climbed out onto the ledge.
A six-inch lip skirted the building at the base of the second floor. Towers were positioned at the corners of the complex, sweeping their lamps along the perimeter and within the courtyard. The telephone-pole style building held the prisoners, but as the different cellblocks had been systematically shut down over the last several months, all of the prison’s population and personnel crowded one arm of the building. The temporary administrative offices dotted the second floor, while the cellblock housed the prisoners underneath. Thanks to information from a grateful guard, Clean Willy knew Head Guard Stout’s office and the Warden’s office bookended the outer corridor of the second floor.
The light from the nearest tower flickered, then died. Clean Willy shuffled down the ledge, nudging each window as he passed hoping for one unlocked. The metallic clang of the butt of a rifle against the sputtering lamp rung along the courtyard. The light blinked alive, and continued its sweep. Clean Willy edged along, knowing he needed a way in before the lamp found him.
A K-9 patrol trotted along the courtyard, the spaniel’s wet snout buried in the long grass along the fenced basketball courts. Wind whipped up behind Clean Willy, billowing the over-sized jacket he wore. He clutched the metal frame of a window.
The dog below stopped, and sniffed.
The guard tugged the leash as the dog scampered in tight circles around him, looking up then changing direction wildly. As Clean Willy pushed against the window frame, the dog raced around, spinning the guard. The window was locked, like all the others. He peeked in the glass and noticed no movement. He glanced to the struggling guard, who pleaded with the spaniel to settle down. Clean Willy ripped off the jacket and rolled it around his elbow. The wind blew against him, carrying down his stench.
Renewed by the fresh blast of Clean Willy’s musk, the dog arced about. The leash lassoed the man’s ankles. He screamed at the dog and teetered. Light from the tower lamp flooded the ground, illuminating the wrestling match below. The dog bayed. The blinded guard dropped.
Clean Willy pulled back his elbow, and timed his thrust with the dog’s next bark. Glass shattered into the corridor. The guard struck the dog as he tried to free himself, and as Clean Willy crawled through the window, he could hear laughs cascading down from the tower and the dog’s incessant barking.
He brushed aside the shards of glass and unwrapped the jacket from his elbow. He dropped the baseball beside the glass, assuming it would cover his entry. The offices waited at the end of the corridor. Clean Willy jogged down the empty passageway that was formally a series of storage rooms. He knew Stout had left for the evening. Nothing more than a locked door stood between him and his goal. His grandmother’s recipe was nearly in his grasp.
The simple task of jimmying Stout’s lock took minimal effort from Clean Willy. A pull-string hung from the ceiling. Light bathed the tiny closet office. The cluttered desk held nothing of value, merely a scribbled note about The Chef and a pack of cigarettes. Clean Willy snatched the pack of cigarettes before exiting, then crossed the hallway and quietly forced his way into the Warden’s office.
A desk was wedged into a corner between a bookshelf and the only window. Clean Willy looked around in the dark. The recipe was scribbled on a torn scrap from a hospital notepad, lines worn in after years of folding. He rummaged through the paperwork and file folders. The search light passed beyond the window, illuminating the opposite corner of the room.
There sat Head Guard Stout.
“Looking for this?” He held the recipe between two fat fingers.
“Maw-Maw’s recipe. Give it to me.” Clean Willy squared himself toward the much larger man. His eyes danced along the room, searching for the quickest way to snatch the slip of paper and make it out.
“Never. This little recipe is my ticket out of here.” Stout’s face curled to a smile, his round cheeks framing his yellow teeth. “The Chef will be here in the morning, and he says he’ll make me the new Sous-Chef for his show on cable. The only thing he needs is this recipe.”
“Save your insults. This is just the beginning. Once I’m out of here, I’ll raid your precious Maw-Maw’s kitchen and steal all her recipes.” The man stood. “Cleanly. Leaving no stench behind. Then, with those dishes, I will build my own fame and open a string of restaurants!”
Clutching the recipe, Stout heaved breaths. Even in the dark Clean Willy noticed the man’s reddening face.
“I have you, Clean Willy. No one has ever caught you in the act. The only reason you were arrested was over that silly little girl, the Consulate’s daughter. She turned on you. Now, I have the recipe, and I have you on attempted escape. You’ll be locked away until this prison rots, and I’ll have free reign of your Maw-Maw’s culinary accomplishments.”
Clean Willy felt his own face redden. He needed to get the recipe and get out. His knuckles whitened on Guard James’ key-ring and badge. He stared at the slip. The search light swept through the room again.
“You ain’t gonna make name off Maw-Maw’s cooking.”
“You can’t stop me. I don’t even understand why you want this so bad.” He waved the recipe. “You’re not even a cook.”
“It’s the principal oh the matter.” Clean Willy swiped at the recipe while fingering the clip on James’ id badge. Stout dodged the grab, but with one hand Clean Willy plucked the man’s id badge from his shirt and replaced it with James’.
“Too slow, Clean Willy.” Stout reached for his radio, not noticing the id switch.
Clean Willy glanced behind him as the approaching floodlight arced its way back across the building. He angled the badge as the light poured through the window, reflecting the glare up into Stout’s eyes.
“What—” Stout stumbled back and Clean Willy picked the recipe from his hand.
He flipped Stout’s badge to the desk and dove for the door. Stout lunged for him, but Clean Willy smacked the door against the portly man’s face. He dashed down the corridor for the broken window.
“Run all you want!” Stout’s voice boomed down the hall. “You’re not in your cell, you’re as good as dead. I’m calling the Warden.” Radio static burred. “This is Stout. We’ve got an escapee! Lock down all exits! Repeat. Lock down all exits!”
Sirens blared to life. Clean Willy sprinted for the window. He slid, scooped up the jacket, and scrambled out onto the ledge. The two towers he could see franticly bounced their lights along the building’s face and the courtyard.
Clean Willy shuffled along the ledge. A beam swept above, forcing him to duck. His foot slipped, but he caught himself on a window frame. Stout’s head poked through the broken window.
“Here! You fools!”
Clean Willy managed as quickly as he could; the lights danced along the wall, one of them blinding Stout, eliciting a flurry of curses. He made it around the corner of the building, out of Stout’s line of sight. The patrolman below unclipped the spaniel, which raced from the leash in pursuit of Clean Willy’s smell. As he edged along the ledge, he scanned the area for unsecured avenues of escape. For as hapless as they were, the guards locked down the perimeter methodically. He glanced to the fences, and shook his head. He knew what to do.
He slipped through into the locker room to the latched stall. He closed the window’s lock, then, after a peek, he burst from the stall and sprinted for James’ desk at the end of the cellblock corridor. Sirens blared off every surface.
Clean Willy slid unseen to the desk and replaced James’ jacket on the chair. Biggs’ mop bucket rested against the wall, the old man nowhere to be seen in the din. Clean Willy peered down the cell-lined corridor and saw the prisoners trying to get any glimpse of the action. Mirrors poked from the bars to reflect a view.
“It’s Clean!” Jumbo said from his cell.
Just as Clean Willy stepped around the desk, the sirens stopped. He turned when he heard the cellblock’s outer door slam open. The guards were coming.
“Clean! Biggs mopped again! The floor’s still wet,” Herbie said, face pressed against the bars and arms flailing for attention.
Clean Willy understood the task. He glanced to his left at the closed inner door of the cellblock. The hallway between the outer and inner doors was not long, and while the guards surged toward him, he would have to reverse Electric Slide back to his cell.
He gripped Jumbo’s cigarettes and slipped the recipe in the box, then proceeded to dance backwards toward his cell.
“No! Slide next!” a prisoner said.
The inner cellblock doors burst from their hinges.
“Find him!” Stout said.
Clean Willy slipped into his cell. As he clanged the door closed, the other prisoners clamored as loudly as they could. After securing the cell, he slipped the keys into his orange fatigues.
“Shut up!” Stout barreled down the corridor.
“Where y’at, Clean?” Jumbo said from his cell. “Get my cigs?” Jumbo’s meaty palm appeared.
“Here you go, chief.” Clean Willy pressed the pack into the man’s hand.
“For true.” Jumbo’s hand disappeared.
Clean Willy exhaled.
“You’re not gonna get away with this,” Stout said, his face a shade of crimson the devil would envy. “Open this cell!” He spun to the mass of guards behind him, eyes wild.
James approached, blushing, and patted his belt for his keys.
“Where the hell were you all?” Stout flapped his arms. James looked at him and opened his mouth, palms upturned. Clean Willy snaked his hand out and clipped James’ keys to the man’s belt loop.
James heard the clink of the keys, then hurried to open the cell.
“Search the cell! Find the recipe!” Stout yanked open the door and bowled over the men to enter. He pushed Clean Willy into the corridor and patted the man down. He crinkled his nose as he searched.
“Where is it!”
The guards milled about the cell as Stout pushed and pulled Clean Willy. He slammed Clean Willy against the opposite cell.
“By Jove, that’s quite enough Mr. Stout.”
Warden Densa cruised down the corridor in his stripped pajamas. Apparently, the man’s entire wardrobe consisted of stripped apparel. “What is all the bloody commotion about?”
“This prisoner was attempting escape. He stole—”
“He’s right there.” The Warden gestured to Clean Willy. He sniffed, then stepped back. “Replace him.”
“No, buts Mr. Stout. Tomorrow is a big day. I received a call from a cable network representative earlier this evening. They are sending a crew to record The Chef.”
Stout’s face purpled. Clean Willy smiled. The Warden pinched his nose, then motioned for James to move Clean Willy back into his cell.
“But—he was out of his cell. I caught him in your office.” Stout gripped his baton and jabbed toward Clean Willy.
The Warden arched a bushy brow then turned to Guard James. “Were you stationed in this hallway, Mr. James?”
“Yes, sir.” The man nodded once, his chins aquiver.
“And was this prisoner loose? Did you leave your post?”
James looked from Stout, to Clean Willy, then back to Warden Densa. “No, sir.” He gestured toward his desk. “See, my jacket’s still there.” As the guard gestured, Clean Willy slipped his hand into the man’s pocket and pulled the Warden’s watch.
“Is that so?”
“No—he was there!” Stout swung the baton at Clean Willy. It struck the metal. He barreled his chest against the bars. Clean Willy dropped the watch into Stout’s pocket.
The Warden spun on his slipper and started down the hallway. “Mr. James, bring Mr. Stout to my office.”
Stout’s eyes poised to explode from his skull as James’ gripped his arm. The porky guard eyeballed his own id badge on Stout’s shirt and plucked it free.
“Eh, Warden, have the time?” Clean Willy asked.
The Warden absentmindedly fished in his pocket, then shook his head. “No, stinky man, someone stole my antique timepiece earlier.”
“Check Stout. He’s got sticky fingers.”
The Warden looked from Clean Willy to the purple-faced Stout. He reached into the man’s pocket and pulled his timepiece free. The Warden’s eyelids rolled up.
Jumbo stuck his arm out into the corridor. “Stout, need a cig?”
The Head Guard stared at the pack, then wildly fought to free himself from James’ grip. Two more guards pushed him down the hall. “It must be in the pack! Warden! What he stole is in the pack!”
The group disappeared through the cellblock’s inner door.
“What’s in my pack?” Jumbo asked.
Clean Willy snatched the pack from around the cell wall. He plucked the recipe from its spot among the cigarettes. “Maw-Maw’s Jambalaya recipe.”
“Why you want that? You ain’t no cook,” Jumbo said.
Clean Willy stared at his grandmother’s scribbled handwriting. He could barely make it out. Then Herbie leaned over his bunk and called to Jumbo.
“It’s the principal of the matter.”
Clean Willy nodded, and hid the recipe in the folds of his orange fatigues. “Maybe, when I get out of ‘ere, I’ll learn to cook.”