Chapter VIII:

An Analysis of Male Sociological Trends

God, I hate jail cells. But that’s the point isn’t it?

I’ve been in a few. They are never fun and rarely worth it. What’s worse is being put through processing when every nerve in your body is jittering, you’ve got a massive headache, and two tender, itchy, purple, blotches on your chest.

I barely remember being arrested, so the whole thing was a little fuzzy in my mind. But the one thing I am adamantly sure I don’t remember was being arrested for murder. Either the cops were being awfully nice to me or something was really wrong with the situation.

I layed on the bench in my cell and stared at the ceiling until I no longer felt my muscles twitch whenever I moved them. When a guard came by on her rounds what I got from her was that I was just being held on suspicion of breaking and entering.

“But I didn’t do anything!” I protested with just a hint of indignant whine in my voice.

“Mister, I really don’t care one way or the other.” she said completely indifferent to my fabricated innocence.

“Can I at least get something to eat?”

She barked a derisive laugh at me and continued on her way.

Now, I knew I was being fucked with. Larry should have had the cops on me hours ago, but as far as they were concerned I was just another random skell. I had to get out of there as soon as possible, but for the moment I needed to play things close to the chest. Not let on how nervous I was. This would require a cool head and every action calculated with precision.

Eventually two more guards opened up my cell and flung in a young guy.

“Hey, private cell!” I shouted at the cops. They love that sort of thing.

“Back off!" one of them said as he put a hand on his nightstick. "I’ll crack your head.”

“Alright!” I raised my hands in surrender. After they closed the door I called out, “I need to talk with someone.”

“Good luck with that, pal.”

“Just tell Sergeant Holding in Larceny Nick Cipher needs to talk with him.”

“Yeah.” the cop sneered. “I’ll get right on that.”

The cops left, and I looked at my new roommate. He was just north of five feet, with an athletic build, light brown skin, shaggy black hair, and was bleeding from under a small bandage on his right eyebrow. He wore rough and ready clothes with some paint stains on them as well as about five years beyond what I guessed to be his natural twenty. It’s a hard look to notice if you don’t see it every time you look in the mirror. My left shoulder has an extra three, my hands eight, my eyes twenty, and my legs have lived forever.

We stood watching each other for an anxiously long time. Both of us waiting for the other to show a sign of weakness. Finally, he gave me the nod, which I returned. I see you, you see me. You start something, I’ll finish it.

“What they get you for?” I asked, gesturing to my obviously uninjured eyebrow.

When he sat down on the bench, he thumbed some blood off his face and inspected it casually. “Tore my bar out when they grabbed me for boosting a car. You?”

I sat down on the bench three feet from his right. “B-and-E with a side of wrong place wrong time. Tazer, close range.” I said, showing him the three prong marks on my shirt.

With that done, he decided to employ the third hierarchy test; The Handshake. Usually only the first two are necessary, but this guy was obviously feeling cornered enough to request the third. I couldn’t really blame the guy. Being confined to a small room with no distractions means you either have to make friends quick or assert dominance faster.

He locked eyes with me, and extended his right hand. “Ollie Mancha.”

This was not the situation I wanted to be in, not after the day I'd been having, but I had no choice. Since we were both sitting, and I was on his right, he already had me on the defensive. The Handshake is an extremely nuanced ritual. A wealth of information can be garnered from it and a lot of things can go wrong. Reaching across with my right hand to match his would leave me in an uncomfortable position with my left arm pinned to the wall. Shaking with my left hand would leave me still able to use my right, but (on top of being awkward) would show I was suspicious of him. Not shaking his hand, or even not acknowledging the handshake would be an act of aggression. In addition there are variables regarding strength of grip, wrist position, who releases first, how long the handshake lasts, is the handshake stationary or animated, and a lot of other seemingly innocuous body language indicators that would tell Ollie what kind of person I was and how the rest of our joint confinement would go. At this point I only had one card to play and I hopped to hell that it worked.

I reached out with my right hand. “Nick Cipher.” I said and let my muscle memory do the rest of the talking.

Ollie’s eyes widened a fraction in surprised recognition, but not of my name. I managed to restrain the sigh of relief as he released his grip.

“You ain’t Keys.” he said peering at me.

“No, I’m your ancestor.” I said, then rolled up my right pant leg to show him the BGO brand on my calf. He gave me the nod again, and that was that.

For any of you who aren't up on your knowledge of local street gangs, Big Game Oldtime used to run territory on the streets from the Bryant building exterior to Potter23. Smalltime hoods; they operated in petty theft, ran a strong but fair protection racket, shifted herb and haze, and held onto what was their's. Since getting ink was expensive and for the last ninety years all new tattoos had to be registered in the county office a lot of gangs made use of old fashioned approuches like unique piercings, scarification, imbedding, and stitches. BGO got by with twisted wire and fire. About sixteen years ago Sly and Amar Keys succeeded in a coup. They restructured the gang and expanded. Now, Keys' gang share boarders with the Gromits, an outfit that specializes in blackmarket tech, and King's Park Boys (which BGO called "naps" because we snuck past so many when they were sleeping), a bunch of scum buckets. Don't ask me to explain the French Canadian thing. You wouldn't understand. I'm no longer active, but having the history comes in handy from time to time. I used to suspect Sifu had been a gang member with how young and blasé he was about the dangers of the city, but he wouldn't have fit in with any of the gangs I knew of.

"How long have you been with Keys?"

"Seven Years." Ollie said with pride.

There was no way I was going to ask him if he was going to retire like I did. Asking that the wrong was would definitely mean a fight. Besides, I know from expereince that if you keep your head on straight you'll have a decent life with access to a support and contacts structure that rivals small corporations.

"Where are you working?" I asked to which Ollie rolled his eyes around the room and I dropped the subject.

"Ain't you that PI in Sprawn East?" Ollie said, leaning against the wall. "Cheap box man."

"I get by."

One of the guards came back to the cell door. "Cypher! Seargent Holding's calling about you."

Ollie and I exchanged nods again, this time with an understood air of fraternity, then I was escorted out to the office and into a private call booth.

"Explain." Holding said gruffly. His face in the monitor was not what I would call happy to see me.

"A complete missunderstanding, I swear."

"You're being held for Breaking and Entering."

"Come on! Larry and Stubbs owed me money."

"The door lock was shot off, Nick!" His face flushed a darker shade of red.

"Check the report. I didn't even have my gun on me when they brought me in."

Holding stared at me skeptically. He must have known I was protecting myself, but there was no solid evidence to implicate me. "You still working that Simon Crabwack case?"

"Nothing's panned out. I just went to there to get some credits."

Again, I got the hard stare from Holding.

"Look, just vouch for me. I can't sit in here all day. I gotta make a living."

"Fine." Holding shook his head. "This better no come back to bite me in the ass, Nick."

"I will stay far away from your ass." I said with a small smile.

"You owe me." he growled and cut the call.

Thirty minutes later I was being proccessed out and given back my stuff.

I asked the desk officer, "Hey, that Ollie Mancha guy that was in my cell. What's he in for?"

"Some beat cops found him tagging a package sorter. They got in a fight when he tried to run. Stupid kid."

"He in for a long stay?"

"Just till someone pays his fines."

"I'll do it."

The officer looked at me incredulously. "Why? You know the guy?"

"Hey," I shrugged," everybody needs friends."

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