Page 42 of Mystic River


So Jimmy stayed up all night, listening for sudden creaks in the bunk above him, knowing he'd have to go for Woodrell's trachea if it came down to it, and wondering if he'd be capable of getting one good punch through Woodrell's massive arms. Hit the throat, he told himself. Hit the throat, hit the throat, hit the throat, oh Jesus, here he comes?


But it was just Woodrell rolling over in his sleep, creaking those springs, the weight of his body bulging down through the mattress until it hung over Jimmy like the belly of an elephant.

Jimmy heard the prison as a living creature that night. A breathing engine. He heard rats fighting and chewing and screeching with a mad, high-pitched desperation. He heard whispers and moans and the seesaw creak of bedsprings going up and down, up and down. Water dripped and men talked in their sleep and a guard's shoes echoed from a distant hall. At four, he heard a scream? just one? that died so fast it lived longer in echo and memory than it ever had in reality, and Jimmy, at that moment, considered taking the pillow out from behind his head and climbing up behind Woodrell Daniels and smothering him with it. But his hands were too slick and clammy and who knew if Woodrell was really sleeping or just faking it, and maybe Jimmy didn't have the physical strength in the first place to hold that pillow in place while the huge man's huge arms swung back at his head, scratched his face, gouged chunks of flesh from his wrists, shattered his ear cartilage with hammer fists.

It was the last hour that was the worst. A gray light rose through the thick, high windows and filled the place with metallic cold. Jimmy heard men wake and pad around their cells. He heard raspy, dry coughs. He had a sense that the machine was revving up, cold and eager to consume, the machine knowing it would die without violence, without the taste of human skin.

Woodrell jumped down onto the floor, the move so sudden Jimmy couldn't react. He closed his eyes to slits and deepened the rhythm of his breathing and waited for Woodrell to come close enough for him to hit his throat.

Woodrell Daniels didn't even look at him, though. He took a book from the shelf above the sink and opened it as he lowered himself to his knees, and then the man began to pray.

He prayed and read passages from Paul's letters and he prayed some more, and every now and then that whispery chuckle would escape from him but never interrupt the flow of words until Jimmy realized that the chuckling was some kind of uncontrollable emanation, like the sighs Jimmy's mother had let loose when he was younger. Woodrell probably didn't even notice that he made the sounds anymore.

By the time Woodrell turned and asked Jimmy if he'd consider accepting Christ as his personal savior, Jimmy knew the longest night of his life was over. He could see in Woodrell's face the light of the damned trying to navigate his way to salvation, and it was so apparent a glow that Jimmy couldn't understand how he'd failed to see it as soon as he'd met the man.

Jimmy couldn't believe his dumb, beautiful luck? he'd ended up in the lion's den, only his lion was a Christian, and Jimmy would accept Jesus, Bob Hope, Doris Day, or whoever the hell else Woodrell adored in his fevered Holy Roller mind as long as it meant this bulked-up freak would keep to his bed at night and sit beside Jimmy during meals.

"I was once lost," Woodrell Daniels said to Jimmy. "But now, praise the Lord, I am found."

Jimmy almost said it aloud: You got that fucking right, Woodrell.

Until today, Jimmy would judge all patience tests against that first night at Deer Island. He would tell himself that he could stand in place for as long as necessary? a day or two? to get what he wanted because nothing could rival that long first night with the living machine of a prison rumbling and gasping all around him as the rats screeched and bedsprings creaked and screams died as soon as they were born.

Until today.

Standing at the Roseclair Street entrance to Pen Park, Jimmy and Annabeth waited. They stood inside the first barrier the Staties had erected on the entrance road, but outside the second one. They were given cups of coffee and folding chairs to sit on, and the troopers were kind to them. But still, they had to wait, and when they asked for information, the troopers' faces turned a bit stony and a bit sad and they apologized but said they knew nothing more than anyone else on the outside of the park.

Kevin Savage had taken Nadine and Sara back to the house, but Annabeth had stayed. She sat with Jimmy in the lavender dress she'd worn to Nadine's First Communion, an event that already seemed as if it had happened weeks before, and she was silent and tight within the desperation of her hope. Hope that what Jimmy had seen on Sean Devine's face was a misinterpretation. Hope that Katie's abandoned car and her all-day absence and the cops in Pen Park were magically unrelated. Hope that what she probably knew as truth was somehow, somehow, somehow a lie.

Jimmy said, "I get you another coffee?"

She gave him a raw, distant smile. "No. I'm okay."

"You're sure?"

"Yeah."

If you don't see the body, Jimmy knew, she's not really dead. That's how he'd been rationalizing his own hope in the few hours since he and Chuck Savage had been dragged away from the hill above the bowl. Could be a girl who looked like her. Or it could be she was in a coma. Or maybe she was crammed back in the space behind the screen and they couldn't get her out. She was in pain, maybe deep pain, but alive. That was the hope? a sliver of it the width of a baby hair? that flickered in the lack of an absolute confirmation.

And even as he knew it was bullshit, some part of Jimmy couldn't let it go.

"I mean, no one said anything to you," Annabeth had said early into their vigil outside the park. "Right?"

"No one said anything." Jimmy stroked her hand, knowing that just the fact that they'd been allowed within these police barriers was all the confirmation they needed.

And yet that microbe of hope refused to die without a body to look down at and say, "Yes, that's her. That's Katie. That's my daughter."

Jimmy watched the cops standing up by the wrought-iron arch that curved over the entrance to the park. The arch was all that remained of the penitentiary that had stood on these grounds before the park, before the drive-in, before any of them standing here today had been born. The town had sprung up around the Penitentiary, instead of the other way around. The jailers had settled in the Point while the families of the convicts nestled down in the Flats. Incorporation into the city began when the jailers got older, started running for office.

The walkie-talkie of the trooper closest to the arch squawked, and he raised it to his lips.

Annabeth's hand tightened around Jimmy's with such force the bones in his hand ground against one another.

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